Cooking a Vietnamese fusion immersion for Armstrong Street

TASTE OF SAIGON: Thao Nguyen, pictured with cousin Thanh Nguyen, hopes her Vietnamese fusion dream complements and does the Armstrong food precinct proud. Picture: Lachlan Bence
TASTE OF SAIGON: Thao Nguyen, pictured with cousin Thanh Nguyen, hopes her Vietnamese fusion dream complements and does the Armstrong food precinct proud. Picture: Lachlan Bence

ALL the attention to detail is really important for Thao Nguyen. She has been carefully crafting a long-held dream.

Vietnamese restaurant Saigon Allée is set to open within a fortnight in the heart of the Armstrong Street foodie precinct.

There are already two Vietnamese offerings nearby but Ms Nguyen hopes her Vietnamese fusion, adding twists of Australian and French cuisine, will complement what is plated up nearby.

This is a concept Ms Nguyen has been considering for about six years. It was just a matter of finding the right space.

“Everything happens for a reason. I’d been looking all up and down Sturt Street but couldn’t find what I was looking for,” Ms Nguyen said.

“When this one came up, right on Armstrong Street, I spoke with the landlord and he said to give it a go.”

Ms Nguyen and her partner have converted what was gift store Lark into a Saigon-inspired experience.

A full-wall mural, painted by Ballarat artists, takes up a whole wall in the dining room so diners can image they have walked down a Saigon alleyway. Signs in the mural are carefully scribed by Ms Nguyen. 

Neon signage indoors was a must.

Outside is a Vietnamese-French vibe for summery night with a tilt to the famous China Beach in Da Nang.

Picture: @saigonallee, Instagram

Picture: @saigonallee, Instagram

The back space was all dug up and concreted by hand. Family have been helping transform the whole place with Ms Nguyen devoting all her spare time between her shifts at a hotel and nearby Thai restaurant. 

Food is a big part of Ms Nguyen’s family.

Her uncle’s steam pork buns are rated number one in Hoi An on TripAdvisor. Her aunt sells popular street food. A sister in France has helped add a French touch.

Ms Nguyen plans to incorporate a little from each, including the steam pork buns, in the menu led by a chef who has worked in a French-style resort in Vietnam.

“We will do a Vietnamese breakfast because we only have hot breakfasts at home. We’ll still do dishes popular in Australia, like bacon and eggs, but with a Vietnamese twist,” Ms Nguyen said. “I have lots of family recipes.”

Ms Nguyen has also been working to perfect handmade chocolates.

She is determined to make sure everything is perfect and in place – hoping to add to Ballarat’s impressive, growing foodie culture – before opening after first moving into the Armstrong Street space in July.

“I come here and do a little bit all the time. I’m always seeing more things I could do,” Ms Nguyen said. “We just want to try and do our best.”

Saigon Allée will initially open Monday to Thursday for breakfast and lunch with dinners on Friday and Saturday nights.