Now sadly closed
Viêt Kitchen review date: May 13, 2015
60 second review, so no score
It’s safe to say that Anthony Bourdain knows his food. His favourite restaurant anywhere is St John in London, run by his great friend, the chef’s chef, Fergus Henderson. I was lucky to interview Henderson this week and will review his two night dinner at Blue Butcher next week. Bourdain has also said that his favorite national cuisine is Vietnamese: “Going to Vietnam the first time was life-changing for sure; The food, culture, landscape and smell; they’re all inseparable. It just seemed like another planet; a delicious one that sort of sucked me in and never let go.”
He is, as pretty much always, absolutely bang-on. The kaleidoscope of flavours, textures and colours is second to none. My vote goes to the bánh mì as the world’s greatest sandwich, while it’s hard to think of a more compelling soup than pho. So an invite to check out Viêt Kitchen was, frankly, a no-brainer. I’m glad I went.
Chef Peter Cuong Franklin has a great story: born in Central Vietnam, he moved to the US, graduated from Yale and worked in investment banking before pursuing his passion in the kitchen. His mom still runs a small noodle shop in Vietnam and was ‘famed for her pork and turmeric noodle soup’ and ‘steamed pork sausage in banana leaf’. You may also well recognise her son as the man behind Chôm Chôm in Soho, but he’s moved on since and Viêt Kitchen is now his new baby, complete with an Uncle Ho collage:
It sits on Connaught Road and has other quirky design touches that work – the light fixtures are upturned pho bowls, while Hanoi face masks adorn a wall – so terrifyingly Instagrammable. Whilst I understand at lunchtime it’s heaving with office staff, the evenings are still pretty quiet.
After some unremarkable fresh spring rolls, the plates and hits keep rolling. Wok-fried beef tenderloin came with garlic bread strong enough to lift you off your feet and throw you down the hallway. A cracking plate.
These caramel chicken wings were just bloody great, sweet and sticky and rich, with vague notes of Marmite for those lucky enough to be in the know. Daikon added clean sharpness and crispness alongside.
Pork belly and mango skewers may not be a Vietnamese classic, but they work just fine regardless:
Steamed shrimp and pork ravioli were another beauty, generous at $78 and dressed in citrus nuoc cham sauce, under coriander, crispy shallots and spring onion oil:
More pork – there can never, ever be enough pork in life – came as grilled Kurobata chops with lemongrass, glazed with fish sauce and pork jus. Yes, pork jus. It took me straight back to the street braziers of Hanoi (below) where the wafting smoke beckons you in from blocks away. Burned lime and cabbage salad provides just the contrast you’re after:
A Tom Yum shrimp salad was good eating but kinda paled into insignificance against the riot of flavours going on elsewhere:
Manila clams came with lime butter sauce, basil and lemongrass under a tangle of coriander. They’re cooked fast on a very high wok heat to achieve a subtle note of smokiness:
Last but by no means least came the Pho. I’m happy to sound like a total arse and pronounce it ‘fur’ when I order it. These guys in New York do a great job of showing you why it’s indisputably fur, never faux.
Peter’s is a revelation. Maybe it’s the star anise coming through strong or the 100-year-old recipe from Hanoi’s old quarter where seasoning is added in small batches as needed. Just the best I’ve had in Hong Kong, which is saying something given it can be crack-in-a-bowl even in the more unsalubrious joints in town. I didn’t take a photo of it because you know what it looks like, a big swampy mess of good stuff. Incidentally, from now until the end of May they are running a ‘Pho Flight’ tasting experience where you get 4 mini bowls – Hanoi chicken, Saigon beef, Hue spicy beef and Pork – for $88. Bargain.
We wrapped with another winner, a Vietnamese coffee gelati with caramelized condensed milk and coffee grinds. Just perfect before heading into the warm and sticky Hong Kong evening, replete and really impressed at Peter’s mix of innovation and classic technique.
G04 and 06 Nexxus Building, 41 Connaught Road, Central: +852 2806 2068 www.vietkitchenhk.com