Jardin Tan, Royal Botanic Gardens

Author: Wendy Hargreaves

Shannon Bennett turns his focus to joggers and young families as the first stage of his French-Vietnamese eatery, Jardin Tan, opens today in the former Observatory Café in Melbourne's Royal Botanic Gardens.

The restaurant will eventually be a sprawling 350-seat monument to sustainable food but in the meantime visitors to the gardens can get a taste of what's to come from a small kiosk at the front.

Head chef Mike Reid (former executive chef at London's Gaucho) will spruce up bánh mi and pho with his classic French kitchen skills and a liberal dose of Blackmore wagyu and Greenvale pork. Reid's kiosk menu is perfect picnic fodder, with a big range of rice paper rolls and French pastries, Five Senses coffee, cold-pressed juices, liquor-laced milkshakes, beer and wine. Orange and star anise-infused coffee with Viet-style condensed milk is also available.

Waiters from Jardin Tan will also ride retro bicycles with trailers around the Tan jogging circuit, selling picnic staples from their bikes with a smartphone app available to track the mobile kiosks via GPS.

But the real action starts in a few weeks when Jardin Tan opens its indoor-outdoor space. The bones of the original cafeteria remain, but recycled timber, new decking and giant herb planters add warmth. The best tables are under the fig tree out the back, catching the morning sun next to the vegetable garden. The full menu will include gems like crisp bành xèo pancakes with pork and shrimp, plus coconut mussels with lemongrass and chilli. Reid's favourite dish is the Flinders Island lamb ribs with Vietnamese spice rub and chilli caramel. Proteins are his specialty, charred on a giant parrilla grill shipped in from Brazil.

A heaving Ottolenghi-style salad display will feature biodynamic produce from Jardin Tan's kitchen garden and the venue's sister property, Burnham Beeches. As the lunch rush finishes, salads will make way for high tea.

And, as the weather warms up, picnic hampers will be available for the adjacent Moonlight Cinema crowd.

Jardin Tan, Royal Botanic Gardens, Birdwood Ave, South Yarra, Vic, (03) 9691 3888. Open daily from 8am-4pm (later in warmer months).

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