Authentic Vietnamese street food in Melbourne has traditionally been found in suburbs such as Richmond and Springvale, with CBD venues typically limited to franchises such as Roll’d and Baget which have more of a fast food feel to them. As a result we were very interested when we were invited by The Brass Coq to sample some of their menu options. The Brass Coq is a new Vietnamese eatery and bar focusing on street food made using home-style recipes.
The Brass Coq is tucked away on in the restaurant strip on Little Lonsdale Street between William and King Streets, so rather than servicing the main tourist and business strip it is located near the residential area and offices on the west side of the CBD. The result is a quite different external architecture compared to many CBD restaurants – the frontage took us back to the French restaurants that we had visited in Vietnam.
The team at The Brass Coq have a deep background in hospitality having worked in bar consulting in Asia and having run a hospitality recruitment, training and concept business in Melbourne. They’ve used their wealth of knowledge (and good old fashioned elbow grease) to design and renovate the internal space from scratch. The aim was to create a space that people would like to hang out in and in our view they have definitely succeeded.
On the ground floor of the venue is a small but well laid out dining area that creates the impression of a much larger space which we found to be a welcome contrast to many Asian restaurants in Melbourne which sometimes prioritise quantity over comfort. Fittings are simple yet elegant, with the extensive use of wood combining well with the whitewashed brick walls to create a casual and ‘hip’ environment for patrons and staff – the abundance of sriracha sauce is a plus also!
The Brass Coq have also tried to distinguish themselves by forging connections with both the Melbourne hospitality fraternity and the residents in nearby apartment buildings to create a true sense of community in what is otherwise a part of the city that is lacking in this. In this regard we think they have made some good progress in the 8 or so weeks they have been open – on the night we visited a group from a nearby MMA gym had popped in for a post-workout meal.
Further enhancing the vibe of the place is the menu, which in addition to being available in printed form, is set out on a simple board on the wall which we thought was a nice touch.
The menu covers many of the Vietnamese classics like rice paper rolls, pho, grilled pork and some traditional salads and also some more modern interpretations of the cuisine like the Vietnamese fried chicken. We understand that the recipes are derived from those handed down from the relatives and partners of the owners and adapted by the chef to give them a modern twist. No-one makes food better than mum so we were very eager to get started on our dinner.
Braised Pork Belly Buns ($14.00)
We started our meal with the braised pork belly buns, which were served with radish, carrot, chilli and dried onion. These were great, the pork had excellent flavour and was easy to bite and the other fillings both complemented the flavour of the pork and created a nice crunch . The buns themselves were well made and were the right balance between dense and fluffy textures.
Papaya Salad ($12.00)
Next up was the papaya salad. This was prepared and served mostly in the traditional way, using green papaya, mint, chilli, peanuts and fried shallots, but grapefruit was also thrown in as a special twist. This dish was also great – there was a good amount of chilli (the Brass Coq are also happy to provide extra fresh chilli for anyone who needs extra spice) giving the salad a nice kick and the balance of ingredients was spot on.
We thought that the addition of the grapefruit was an interesting touch, the flavour impact was subtle but it did provide a cooling balance to the chilli. Although in this case the twist didn’t make a lot of difference to the dish we definitely encourage this sort of experimentation.
Vietnamese Fried Chicken ($14.00)
To finish our first course we had the Vietnamese Fried Chicken (or VFC for short), which was served with chillies (of course) and a sauce made from caramelised sugar and fish sauce. This was probably the standout dish of the entire meal for us, the batter was wonderfully light and didn’t have the thick and oily feel of other fried chicken, and was made from chicken ribs which made it very easy to eat with our hands. This is exactly how all fried chicken should be.
Grilled Pork Loin ($18.00)
After finishing our first round we then embarked on the main course, which kicked off with the grilled pork loin. This dish is inspired by the classic grilled pork chop on broken rice which is typical of the restaurants you would find on Victoria Street in Richmond, but made from a pork loin and also served with an egg and a side salary of radish and carrot.
The pork was well cooked with good flavour and no fat but we thought that the dish suffered a little by being introduced as a derivative of com tam as one of the attractions of that dish is the char on the pork chop and the juiciness created by the fat on the meat – essentially we found this version to be almost too ‘pure’. Again, we support innovation and creativity and would suggest either marketing this dish differently or using a cut of meat with some fat on it.
Barramundi in Tamarind Broth ($24.00)
While the wagyu steak was very tempting we decided to finish our main course with another traditional Vietnamese dish, the barramundi in tamarind broth. The quality was consistent with the other dishes we ate during our visit, the fish was cooked perfectly with a nice crispy skin and the tamarind soup had great flavour – the latter could potentially have been more sour, although that was just our palette talking.
Mango Pudding ($8.00)
Although we were already quite full after the feast we had consumed we couldn’t resist the lure of the two desserts on the menu. The first item to arrive was the mango pudding, served with lychees. This was a well presented, reasonably standard pudding, not too sweet (which we liked) and with a smooth and creamy texture.
Deep Fried Custard Bao ($8.00)
Our last dish was the most intriguing item on the menu – the deep fried custard bao. This was yet another piece of innovation by the chef – a unique take on one of the current ‘on trend’ foods. Frying instead of steaming the bun and using a green custard as the filling and coating the outside with sugar was quite unique. We really liked the result which was similar to a doughnut. The custard had only very slight sweetness which was perfect and the fried bun had a good crispiness to it.
After finishing our meal we checked out the upstairs bar space which had literally only just opened. Using custom-made imported furniture the team at The Brass Coq have created a cozy area place for diners to chill out after eating. The dimmer lighting compared to the dining area downstairs is entirely appropriate for this space and together with the non-whitewashed brick walls really enhances the warmth of the space. For actual warmth there is also a fireplace which will come in very handy when winter sets in fully.
The bar itself is tiled and adorned with custom artwork and boasts a wide array of spirits, including some top shelf whiskies. The black tiles combined with the lighting under the bar creates an almost nightclub-esque feel which makes for an interesting contrast against the sitting area. This is definitely a a space where we would want to come in and have a drink after work.
Speaking of having a drink, we also sampled some of the creations on The Brass Coq’s newly-finalised cocktail list which, as was the case with the food menu, contains classics with a (typically Asian) twist. One that we tried was margarita that was made with yuzu rather than the traditional lime which gave the drink a bit of additional zing. If you’re not sure what you’d like, let the guys know what sort of drink you would like (sweet, sour, dry etc…) and they will be more than happy to go and create something for you.
We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to The Brass Coq. The team have created a casual dining space with a great vibe and menu that pulls off a number of Vietnamese classics really well with some creative and interesting twists. Pair this with a chilled and relaxed bar space and you’ve got a space that we will definitely be back to visit again. We encourage anyone who is in the area to pop in for a meal and a few drinks.
The Brass Coq
470 Little Lonsdale Street
Mon-Fri: 11:30am to 3:00pm; 5:00pm to 11:00pm
Sat: 5:00pm to 11:00pm
Fri & Sat: 5:00pm to 1:00am