A long road to St Ives

Monthly Chronicle - - Dining Out Locally - Jenny Bar­lass

Ev­ery pic­ture tells a story, and this one is no dif­fer­ent. A Viet­namese mother and son clutch bowls of steam­ing good­ness fresh from their kitchen, des­tined for hun­gry din­ers at their St Ives res­tau­rant, Pe­tit Saigon.

But theirs is a longer jour­ney. Head chef Thuy Hang Nguyen, also known as Mary to her cus­tomers, fled the Viet­nam war 35 years ago on a boat with her hus­band. Even­tu­ally she landed a job in a bank but tired of the com­pany cul­ture, and as a pas­sion­ate cook whose del­i­cate Viet­namese flavours kept memories of their home­land alive in her fam­ily’s hearts and minds, re­solved to open a res­tau­rant.

Amaz­ingly when the fam­ily opened Pe­tit Saigon, an ex­plo­ration of the cui­sine of South Viet­nam, they had no ex­pe­ri­ence run­ning a res­tau­rant. “It was chaos,” smiles son Kevin, the front man of the es­tab­lish­ment. “We didn’t know what we were do­ing, it was crazy. But with the recipes from my grand­mother and mother filling our menu, we soon built up a base of reg­u­lars.”

As we sit down to dine in this trendy neigh­bour­hood eaterie re­plete with wood pan­elled walls, Asian artefacts and low-hang­ing con­tem­po­rary light­ing, a steady stream of mid-week din­ers come and go, quickly de­vour­ing bowls of steamy, brothy good­ness like the Viet­namese sta­ples Pho Bo or Pho Ga.

But we opt for the less ob­vi­ous, linger-longer op­tions: Com ga xao lan: stir fried turmeric chicken in co­conut cream with peanuts, lemon­grass and ver­mi­celli, a sub­tle but pretty dish. As well the ta­ble fills with my com­pan­ion’s other choices - de­li­cious crispy skinned quail pieces with a lemon-pep­per dip­ping sauce, Bo luc lac - lit­tle cubes of ten­der beef with a pep­per and onion ac­com­pa­ni­ment, and lots of warm­ing rice. This was washed down with co­conut juice pepped up with chunks of real co­conut flesh.

The fi­nal flourish of the mains was the House Spe­cial - Banh Hoi Chao Tom Thit Nuong - a do- it-your­self rice pa­per roll build­ing ex­er­cise. Pre­sented with a plate of su­gar cane wrapped prawns, grilled beef pieces, peanuts, ver­mi­celli noo­dles, pick­led car­rot and a bas­ket of herbs and green leaves, the idea is to cre­ate your own roll, a prospect known to daunt some din­ers.

At­tempts at this feat of culi­nary gym­nas­tics at this writer’s house re­sult in most rolls look­ing like some­thing the cat threw up, so a mas­ter­class was long over­due. As Kevin deftly showed us how to pile and wrap, he ex­plained that “the se­cret’s in only soak­ing the rice pa­per sheets for a few sec­onds. It's fun and peo­ple love the in­ter­ac­tiv­ity of this dish.”

We fin­ished off with their se­cret dessert, a cu­ri­ous con­coc­tion of deep fried ice cream wrapped in filo pas­try, ac­com­pa­nied by straw­ber­ries, nuts and caramel sauce. Re­plete al­ready, it early fin­ished us off. More tra­di­tional co­conut jelly and ba­nana desserts are lighter al­ter­na­tives.

All the dishes are rea­son­ably priced, cre­at­ing space in your week for a quick bowl of some­thing won­der­ful in a dive in/dive out style, or for a longer more in­dul­gent feast that still won’t break the bank.

The kitchen is in full view and we watch Mary deftly jug­gle fry­ing pans, woks and tongs. This fam­ily has come a long way - and St Ives is the bet­ter for it.

Fam­ily act: Kevin and Mary Nguyen

Banh Hoi Chao Tom Thit Nuong - a do- it-your­self rice pa­per roll kit fea­tur­ing sug­ar­canewrapped prawns and beef pieces

SaBúnGàXào - rice ver­mi­celli salad served with hot lemon­grass braised chicken, left, and Pho˜ Gà - a slow-cooked broth with rice noo­dles and chicken, right

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.