Nestled under the dreary greys of Marcus Clarke Street’s multistory car park, the soft lights from Miss Van’s gleam out a welcoming invitation.
Stepping inside, my eyes take in all the beautiful details that create its exotic atmosphere. Pendant lights hanging low, the glowing bar with its hand-rendered wall, a large green French-colonial inspired dining banquette and an island of lotus patterned tiles inlaid into the cement floor.
“This was the restaurant I’ve always wanted to open, ever since I was introduced to the world of hospitality when I was 17,” owner Andrew Duong says.
Andrew discovered a passion for hospitality early. Thirsty for knowledge, he worked casually in the industry as a high school student. Starting in hotels, he slogged his way from kitchenhand up to cook. Within various restaurants and kitchens, he eagerly gained experience in every role, from humble ‘glassy’ to bar manager and as a cook.
“I went to uni, completed a degree, applied for 9-to-5 jobs, but that wasn’t where my heart was,” Andrew says.
“I always wanted to do hospitality. I spent my university years working in a range of hospitality jobs. Once I completed my bachelor’s degree, I knew hospitality was the industry that I wanted to make a career in.”
A little while later, in 2015, Andrew launched Miss Van’s as part of Westside’s shipping container village in Barton, serving up Vietnamese street food: banh mi, pho and noodle bowls. Being a first-generation Asian born to refugee parents, Andrew chuckles at the irony of how his food journey has come full circle.
“My grandma used to sell banh mi rolls in Laos as a means to get away from poverty. Our family also sold banh mi as a way to survive when living in a Thai refugee camp for five years. So, when I told her I opened up a banh mi shop in Australia, she was not impressed!”
When the shipping container village closed, Andrew linked up with a couple of friends and launched modern Asian eatery Lazy Su, followed a little later by its casual dining offshoot, Baby Su.
But this, Miss Van’s – the restaurant – was the venue and food that Andrew always wanted to open. A modern Southeast Asian eatery. The Viet Laos flavours of his childhood have inspired the food he now creates at Miss Van’s, named after his mum.
“Our food is traditional Southeast Asian flavours in a modern venue. Our menu features traditional flavours that people of Thai, Laos or Vietnamese background will be familiar with, reinterpreted and reimagined in modern ways that incorporate ingredients native and common in Australia.”
Miss Van’s is beautiful. Andrew points out various details of the décor. A great deal of thought has gone into it. Vietnam’s national flower, the lotus, is in the handmade tiles and featured across the restaurant, but your eyes will also be caught by the sandblasted brick wall, Tassie oak benches, the emerald-hued fish scale splashback at the bar and the wrought-iron gate. And it appears that Nan has come around to the idea of Andrew pursuing his love for the beautiful food she introduced him to; her face is on the coasters! The kitchen is spacious, and the bar seats are roomy, a place to have just drinks or dinner.
“Miss Van’s is a culmination of two sides of my life and career. First, my personal history, family flavours, culture and traditions,” Andrew says.
“The other half is my professional career in the restaurant and bar industry of what I like to eat and what I want to serve people.”
Miss Van’s team consists of head chef Adam Hazelton, formerly of Aubergine by way of London and sous chef Brandon Hardiman of Corella Bar. The bar is headed by Michael Nguyen, ex-beverage director of Molly Bar and an AHA Bartender of the Year.
I pop in and grab a takeaway pork banh mi for lunch. Five minutes later, I am biting into a banh mi that is crisp and crumbly on the outside, with a soft fluffy interior. The fillings play a beautiful harmony across my tastebuds. A spread of umami butter, followed with chicken parfait, fresh herbs; tender strips of banana leaf-steamed mortadella and roast pork on mayonnaise, the optional yet so necessary chilli oil, and pickled carrot and daikon. A perfect balance of flavours. This lunch is truly a steal at $15 and suddenly, this lover of every type of sandwich has a new obsession.
The set menu is 10 dishes over four courses and starts with bread and butter. Local Three Mills bread with umami butter using French butter. There is a snack plate there, lots of fresh flavours, traditional Laos flavours, and two and a half desserts!
Visit Miss Van’s and fall in love with a cuisine that is so much more than $15 banh mis and $12 pho bowls!
Miss Van’s is located at Shop 4, 113-119 Marcus Clarke Street in City West Carpark. Look for the neon peach ‘Miss Van’s’. It is open for lunch Wednesday to Sunday from 11:30 am to 3 pm, and for dinner Wednesday to Saturday from 5:30 pm. Follow Miss Van’s on Facebook and Instagram, and check out their menu here.