St Cloud Eating House, Hawthorn East

St Cloud Eating House is a Vietnamese fusion style restaurant, located on Burwood Road in Hawthorn about a five minute walk from Auburn Station. It was a really enjoyable experience here, and I noticed there is a lot of emphasis on using different herbs to provide flavours and add to natural ingredients, something I haven't really seen in Viet style cuisines.

The restaurant has quite a lot of seating; there's two levels plus an outdoor area on the second floor, but as it's so popular, you definitely have to book for one of their two sittings in advance, in order to grab a table. The decor is quite simple, with white painted walls and lights hanging from the ceiling, giving it mood lighting in a relaxed environment. Upbeat music plays in the background; loud enough to provide add to the atmosphere and experience of the whole place, but not too much that you had to raise your voice to speak, even with all the chatter from the groups of people. The service was really great with attentive and friendly staff, and our food came out in less than fifteen minutes.

St Cloud is open for both lunch and dinner, with different menus for the different seatings. The dinner menu has a good range of sharing plates, mains and salads; as there was only two of us when I went, we decided to go with a couple of the sharing dishes so we could try more things, plus my friend had been before and said the main dishes were quite large and might be too much for two people. The dishes we went with were the wok tossed pipis ($16; depending on the market price on the day you visit), chicken wings ($12), ocean trout ($12) and a papaya salad ($15).

The pipis were cooked with lemongrass, chilli, spring onion, vietnamese mint and sweet basil, and was a really fresh and light dish.  The pipis were served in a clear broth that was a little salty by itself, but for the most part added extra flavour to the dish. The chilli and herb flavour really came through strongly, adding to the natural flavours of the pipis.

The chicken wings were served in a fish sauce caramel and came with a side of sticky rice, burnt onions, house pickles and herbs. This was the favourite dish for both my friend and I, and highly recommend for anyone who visits. Despite having a caramel style sauce, the chicken wings had just the right amount of sweetness and wasn't overpowering. The outer skin of the chicken wings was nice and crisp, contrasting with the soft and tender chicken inside. The sticky rice, which was also drizzled in the fish sauce caramel, added that carb element to round out the dish nicely, and wasn't too messy or sticky to eat.

The ocean trout was cured in annatto and ginger, with betal leaf parilla, peanuts and pomello. This was also quite a light dish; the ocean trout was extremely soft and its natural flavour came through well, without having any fishy flavour at all, though I couldn't really taste the annatto or ginger flavours in it. The use of the pomello bits in the dish really added to it to give both sweet and acidic flavours to balance out the trout, and was enjoyable. It was different to what you'd normally expect with fish dishes when they provide a lemon wedge on the side, and I definitely preferred the orange-y flavour of this fruit.

The papaya salad came with banana blossom, shallots, peanuts, chilli and herbs and again, was quite a light dish. The papaya salad really helped to balance out the flavours and textures from the other dishes we ordered, as it was more crunchy and acidic in comparison to the dishes mentioned above.

I had a really great experience at St Cloud and would definitely come again, as there are some other dishes I'd like to try as well. In particular the main dishes whose portions are a bit larger, and would be great for a larger group of people. Definitely worth a try for either lunch or dinner!

Ambience: 8/10
Service: 8/10
Food: 8/10
Price: $$

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