Located in a pocket of contemporary Vietnamese restaurants on Illawarra Road, Hello Auntie presents a menu of straight and updated Viet dishes in a modern, dimly lit setting. We’re seated in the galley tables that run alongside the open kitchen, at the juncture between the restaurant’s small bar area and their minimalist rear dining room.
Despite the plethora of staff and the early hour, nobody working the floor moves very quickly. It is as if all the energy of the place is solely reserved for those working in the busy kitchen, catering to dine in customers as well as producing take-away orders.
Our first dish, Won Tons ($24), arrives faster than our cocktails. Despite our proximity to the kitchen it’s barely lukewarm, likely from the black sesame and eggplant ravioli being laid out flat upon a cold plate. Nonetheless it’s an interesting dish, with Sichuan beurre blanc, peanuts and yogurt combining in a way that – perhaps because of the dish's temperature – is instantly reminiscent of Sichuan cold noodles in sesame or peanut sauce.
Hello Uncle ($27) promises so much with braised beef, coconut polenta, chipotle mayo., pickles and shaved foie gras, but falls down on flavour. The braised beef is well cooked but insipid. The application of fluffy shaved foie gras should have helped increase the dish’s richness, but in such meagre quantities, it might as well not have been there. The golden cubes of polenta are undercooked, and lack the promised coconut hit. As such I struggle to connect them to the beef stew, except in so far as stew eats nicely with carbohydrates. Even the so-called chipotle mayonnaise lacks pizzazz.
After prompting the floor team for the House-Made Pickles ($7) we ordered to go with this dish, I start to wish I hadn’t. They lack the beautiful subtlety I associate with do chua (Vietnamese pickles), tasting unbalanced and predominantly of fish sauce.
The restaurant redeems itself with Banh Khot ($20) – miniature savoury coconut pancakes. These are a popular Vietnamese street food. They arrive at a mouth-blistering temperature in a special banh knot skillet, topped with prawns, coconut cream and bright orange smelt roe.
The mint and lettuce leaves are there for wrapping, though I’m perplexed as to why the restaurant chose to supply just four lettuce leaves for a skillet containing seven pancakes, along with a whole bottle of nuoc cham dipping sauce.
From the cocktail list, the Greenita ($17) drinks well, with tequila, Cointreau and lime offset by chilli. A more adventurous Nutty Zoe ($18) of Pimms, white rum, rambutan, macadamia, mint and lime loses points because the macadamia is injected to taste by the diner – I prefer my cocktails balanced (and tasted) by a bartender. Wines mostly come in under sixty bucks, with most selections on the short list also presented by the glass. My pick for the cuisine is the aromatic field blend of
pinot gris, gewürztraminer and Riesling - the 2015 Yealands Estate P.G.R. ($12/glass, $48/bottle).
Beyond in the updated look and the extended boozing options, where Hello Auntie might also curry favour, is with vegan and vegetarian diners. They offer considerable, well-labelled vegan and vegetarian dishes, including ones with mock meat, in a cuisine that traditionally isn’t known for doing so.
278 Illawarra Road, Marrickville
Ph: (02) 8068 8200