FROM the moment Viet Shack opened a stall in the Arndale Market back in 2014, swiftly winning ‘Best Cheap Eats in the Manchester Food and Drink Awards there was always sense of style that set them apart from the street food crowd.
Nelson Lam brought a certain panache to purveying his native Vietnamese cuisine. The former fashion stylist, co-owner with accountant Leo Trần, pushed back the purist boundaries by extending next door to open the more eclectic Fusion Lab (itself nominated this year in the category now termed ‘Affordable Eats’).
The opening of a restaurant proper on Great Ancoats Street takes the Shack into new territory. From the neon sign proclaiming ‘Good food & good vibes only’ full rein is given to visual flamboyance with myriad parasols dangling from the ceiling like exotic fungi and a bar flush with pink blossom. Quite a switch from the pale minimalism of former occupant Squid Ink.
The food offering is blooming, too. We’ll be back soon to review the full menu, which centres around centres around Do Nhau, or 'drinking food' – small plates designed for sharing with family and friends over a beer or two. A shame then that bottles of Corona and Tiger are about it when the rest of Ancoats is awash with craft tipples.
We couldn’t resist sampling one of the trumpeted small plates Muc Nong (chargrilled squid, Asian pickles, salad, garlic and green chilli sauce, above)). For £6.80 there was lots of squid with a real chilli edge, which was absent from a Goi Tom Ga salad (£7.80) featuring chicken and prawns in a leafy slaw (£7.80).
Prawns also featured in summer spring rolls (£4.80) we shared, the rice paper casing on the resistant side. A juicy lemongrass chicken burger (£10) with great pickles and sriracha mayo restored the faith.
The opening weekend mega queues had subsided by the time we visited early evening midweek (no lunchtimes yet) but the place filled up quickly. As they say in Ancoats these days: location, location. And this is prime.
"We wanted people to come in and see a modern version of Vietnam," said Nelson. "Both of our parents are from Vietnam but I was born in Manchester and really proud to be Mancunian so we wanted people to come in and see Asia but with a bit of urban style."
Check out Nam, too, in nearby Blossom Street for more urban style, albeit with a simpler pho and banh-mi snack offering alongside an ambitious music roster.
Viet Shack, 65-67 Great Ancoats Street, Manchester. M4 5AB.