My Dad has always told me that nothing in life is for free. While I couldn’t agree with him more, there’s no denying how excited I become when I receive a freebie. I’m not talking about winning business class tickets to Europe or anything like that, (not that that would happen; I’m one of those people who enters everything but wins nothing) but I’m referring to the complimentary bowl of popcorn served with a drink (hello Shady Pines Saloon), 2-for-1 dinners (The Clock, Surry Hills) and Tuesday $1 hot dogs (yep, The Soda Factory). In an expensive city, these are the small wins that put a smile on my dial.
After walking up a dark stairway, we arrive at the sleek and slightly sterile Salon de The. Pronounced “teh” not “the”, the minimalistic space juts out over Victoria Street, featuring very little other than a wall of vodka bottles and a long mirror. Imagine my surprise when I receive not only complimentary tea but also complimentary nuts, as soon as I sit down. It’s not the ordinary stuff either; the tea is organic green with native Australian lemon myrtle and fennel seeds while the pepita, cashew and almond mix are roasted with a spiced salt. Experience has taught me that perks like this are only reserved for dive bars and run of mill restaurants, not a restaurant owned by hospitality heavyweight Maurice Terzini and the Ciroc Collective.
Despite the bar specialising in martinis, we order a bottle of Hoddles Creek pinot gris (Yarra Valley), which surprising goes down well with a cup a tea. Rice paper rolls are stuffed with a generous slab of Hiramasa kingfish with flecks of tart ruby grapefruit nestled amongst al dente rice noodles. Dunked into a traditionally-hot nuoc cham, this is authentic Vietnamese food at its finest. The yellow curry of soft shell mud crab is rich and full of body, served with cubes of pumpkin in lieu of potato and topped with fried lotus root.
Then there’s the baby kale, nashi pear and goji berry salad, dressed with a pumpkin seed ponzu, followed by a slaw of wood grilled chicken and lemongrass. The menu largely stems from Vietnamese roots with flashes of Japanese genius and traditional Thai flavours.
The tea and nuts are a great start but the winner at Salon de The is the work of French chef Julien Perraudin who has created a menu that is laced in traditional South East Asian flavours, served with a modern day finesse.