I’m still ploughing my way, with great pleasure, through the menu at Ngu Vien. We’ve sat down for a stuffing at this table before here and here. The muzak-music selection at Ngu Vien sunk to a new low on this visit. In my mind’s eye the musicians are part of a kidnapped band forced to grind through the most turgid of cellophane symphonies on the whim of a Kim-Jong-Il-alike, brains dulled day-in-day-out by the din. I can cope with Hell’s backing band (just…) as we’ve yet to find a total bummer on the menu. And tonight is no different. We’ll begin with the weakest link, pictured above, Ca Dieu Hung Hap Hanh (Steamed Sea bass with spring onions) 69,000VD. It was the dreariest dish, but it was still decent. Don’t think it was actually sea bass, but what the hell, it was fresh enough, bags of greens sitting atop a metal plate on a paraffin flame. There’s enough fish for two at a push. And with rice and greens, you’d be set for the evening. But, we needed more. Much more.
Ngu Vien does two great salads, one with grapefruit and the one above, Goi Mit (Jackfruit Salad served with sesame rice cakes) 39,000VD. Be careful not to dollop all the nuoc mam (fish sauce) that comes with this dish on top of the jackfruit – you’ll swallow more salt than the North Sea if you do. What makes this a winner is the subtle flavour and texture of the jackfruit. Half melting, half chewy. Couple that combo with the crisp crunch of the sesame cracker and it’s a blindin’ must try.
Next up is Muc Nuong Sate (Grilled Squid with Sate) 57,000VD. Squid is a risk in some Saigon restaurants, not here. It’s as succulent as it looks in the snap above. Just as important is the sate. This is often a disaster in Vietnam, but again Ngu Vien come up with the right balance of sweetness and spicy zip. Good stuff.
Last up Canh Bo Nau Khe (Beef soup with carambola) 31,000VD. This is a sour soup, but not too sour. The carambola (or star fruit) is the main flavour enhancer adding that sourness. The beef’s no great shakes, but the soup juice over rice with a smidgen of star fruit was a super end to yet another stuffing at Ngu Vien. View the business card and in Vietnamese.