A coal pit is pretty much de rigueur for any self-respecting restaurant aiming for street cred in these smoke-obsessed times. Pair your coal pit with currently trending Vietnamese food, as Uncle is doing in St Kilda, and you're painting yourself in all kinds of cool.
Now known as Uncle Downtown, the ground-level bar in the Carlisle Street venue has a new fit-out by design firm Foolscap Studio that sees a flock of colourful woven plastic food covers crowding the ceiling and a tight focus on the new 1.2-metre coal pit.
The pit-driven bar menu is all about tapping into the memories of chef Dai Duong and Uncle co-owner Rene Spence. "One of my strong food memories is of the meat charred over coals in Hoi An in central Vietnam," Spence says. "Dai remembers all this food as a kid, too. Barbecue is so simple, so powerful… memories on a stick. We wanted to capture those memories, but the key is not to overcomplicate things."
Dai's memories of Vietnamese home cooking will see marinades to the fore in the likes of pork steeped in condensed milk and lemongrass, and chicken coated in a ginger, soy and pâté combination before being given the pit treatment.
Cocktails like the Smokin' Ho, a mix of pit-seared pineapple and chilli, lime juice, Vietnamese mint and tequila, will be on hand alongside an all-can beer list.
The opening of Uncle Downtown next Friday coincides with Uncle's first birthday and will no doubt see queues forming along Carlisle Street. Luckily, Uncle Downtown features a new takeaway window that will serve skewers and banh mi so there's no need to go hungry, even if you can't get in.
Uncle Downtown, Thurs-Sat from 5pm, 188 Carlisle St, St Kilda, Vic , (03) 9041 2668
Looking for more Melbourne dining options? Check out our list of the best restaurants in Melbourne.