Any Windsorian (which I was one of until I handed back my passport last month) will tell you that there’s three cheeky sisters that rule Chapel Street’s food scene. You may as well call them the Kardashians of Windsor. All have very different heritage but equal amounts of sass and a saucepan load of style.
Located within a one-kilometre radius of one another are Hanoi Hannah, Tokyo Tina and Saigon Sally – the brain children of Melbourne restaurateur extraordinaires Nic Coulter, Simon Blacher and Paul Nguyen – each serving up delicious modern Asian fare.
And given the concentration of restaurants in the 3181 postcode, the fact that all three of these sassy sisters have not only survived their one-year birthday, but still have a sturdy stream of fans queuing out the door every night of the week tells us that they should be taken as seriously as Donald Trump’s run for presidency.
Tucked off Chapel Street, Saigon Sally serves up Vietnamese that rivals Richmond’s Victoria Street. Yet in true Windsor-style your spicy mi goreng comes with plenty of personality.
You enter this popular Melburnian hangout from a laneway that’s covered in the vomit of a paint pot and a rainbow of sneakers. But inside the story is more refined with Sally being the most sophisticated of the sisters – let’s call her Kourtney.
As for the menu, expect an eclectic amalgamation of Vietnamese flavours, with banh xeo tacos, Saigon chilli crabs and lemongrass grilled quail all making menu cameos.
I encourage you to book (if you’re allergic to talking to a real person it’s easy to do this online). But if you’re allergic to booking in general, the bar does take walk-ups. Just don’t chuck a Kanye when you have to wait a healthy hour to be seated.
Finally, Saigon Sally’s bottomless Sunday bargain brunch of six share plates and unlimited bubbles and beer for $69 is a hidden Windsor secret. Cat’s out of the banh mi box now.
Saigon Sally | 2 Duke Street, Windsor, Victoria
Phone: (03) 9533 2342
Compared to Saigon Sally, Hanoi Hannah is a paired back, hawker-style alternative, serving up everyone’s Vietnamese favourites of pho, rice paper rolls and banh mi, all for quite reasonable prices.
Again, Hanoi Hannah is super popular and the smallest of the three venues, so it can be tricky to score a table, particularly as there is a no bookings policy – you’ll need to roll up and roll the dice. Mostly, when I was a residing Windsorian, I found myself frequenting Hanoi Hannah’s take-away hut next door, Express Lane, which has a similar menu but is bagged up to go.
If I’m being completely honest, there was a period of time where I ate Hannah’s lemongrass beef with chilli and mint banh mi for dinner at least once a week for 68 weeks. Another favourite of mine is the yellowfin tuna rice paper roll, which is laced with just the right amount of wasabi mayo.
For those interested in the décor, it’s equal parts wooden and random, with kiddy chairs and fern-filled bird cages hanging from the ceiling.
Hanoi Hannah | 180 High Street, Windsor, Victoria
Phone: (03) 9939 5181
The youngest of the three sisters, Tokyo Tina opened in early 2015 and has been plating up non-traditional Japanese food to the hungry hoardes of Chapel Street ever since.
Tokyo Tina is not what you’d expect from a Japanese restaurant. There’s no nigiri, sashimi nor sushi in sight.
But what it lacks in conventionalism it makes up for in fun, flavour and anime posters. The avocado salmon poke bowl is delicious, as is the white cut chicken salad and orange is the new black dessert of mandarin parfait and a black sesame macaroon.
The dining experience comes complete with a fully stocked bar that, you guessed it, has lots of sake, along with some damn good cocktails and a dangerous amount of wine to choose from. As for seating, it’s a mingled mix, from curbside and communal tables to booth nooks and bar stools.
Tokyo Tina | 66 Chapel Street, Windsor, Victoria
Phone: (03) 03 9525 2774
Which one is best?
By an edamame bean, I would have to say Tokyo Tina is the fairest of the three sisters. The giant disco ball, banging beats and one of the quirkiest Japanese experiences south of Tokyo pushes it across the winning line.