Pork jowl with cuttlefish demi-glace, dry-aged duck breast and potato dumplings aren’t exactly the first things that come to mind when you imagine a Vietnamese menu. Yet, these are just a few of the delights that await you at Hello Auntie 2.0 in Darling Square – the most exciting dining precinct to open in Sydney in years.
The unexpected combination of Vietnamese, Italian, Korean and Japanese flavours (to name but a few) might initially send your mind reeling, but it’s the masterful, tasteful blending of cuisines by chef-owner Cuong Nguyen that sets this contemporary eatery apart. While the original outlet in Marrickville is well known for its twists on traditional Vietnamese fare, convention has been well and truly flung out the window, and ‘fusion’ given new meaning at the second instalment of this growing empire.
They call themselves ‘modern Vietnamese’, but that seems like a bit of an understatement given how much is going on in the kitchen. Take a globetrotting snack of fried school prawns, for instance – tiny crustaceans dusted in rice flour scented with Australian lemon myrtle, fried until crisp, and served with a sweet-spicy mayo livened by gochujang, the fiery Korean fermented chilli paste. You could easily munch on them all afternoon with a cold beer or two.
Their take on beef tartare is equally inspired – pretty purple rice crackers adorn a generous portion of roughly diced raw steak on a bed of silky mushroom purée. The garnish of cornichons, mustard, sesame oil, chives and brunoise potatoes deliver a punchy but balanced hit of acid, heat and salt while the purée adds roundness and umami richness. It’s a nod to Vietnam’s French heritage while other dishes have enough stamps to fill a passport page. For something truly original, give the ‘Koh’ black kingfish a whirl. Hearty pieces of flesh are stewed in a sweet coconut liquor and garnished with wasabi, yuzu and fruity olive oil. It’s Tokyo via Ho Chi Minh City with a layover in Tuscany.
If familiar comfort is what you’re after, banh xeo is your answer. The street-food classic is a thing of hulking proportions here: a turmeric and coconut spiced crêpe folded over mounds of crunchy bean sprouts, nutty jicama and your choice of protein. The combination of textures and flavours keeps the palate interested, so eating it never gets boring. Yet, with so many novel dishes on offer, it’s not unwise to go left-of-centre.
Ultra-rich and not remotely Vietnamese Hokkien noodles get a big nod of approval, teamed with creamy stracciatella, woody shiitake and shimeji mushrooms, and an onsen egg. The musky pungency of truffle and the sweetness of pistachio nuts are thrown in for good measure, and it all springs to life with a glass of Akishika Shuzo’s funky ‘Kobo #7’, one of seven sakes on a well-designed drinks list that also features citrusy yuzushu and plummy umeshu. They've even gone through the trouble of pointing out suggested pairings for you. Nothing's over $22, so why not take the punt?
In a world where so-called ‘fusion’ cuisine is often more miss than hit, Hello Auntie 2.0 proves that combining flavours from opposite ends of the world can be both sensible and respectful, playful and very grown-up, indeed. (And if your inner child needs some love, pull up a seat at the wraparound bar and ask for a UV light, which reveals a secret menu of food and drink specials written on your coaster in invisible ink.)