Back on May 23rd, 2016, Barack Obama and Anthony Bourdain, with their sleeves rolled up, top buttons unbuttoned, shared a small intimate table in a crowded, sparsely decorated dining room in the bowels of Hanoi. The photo capturing these two men became an instantly iconic image, with Bourdain tweeting poetically, “Low plastic stool, cheap but delicious noodles, cold Hanoi beer.”
Vietnamese Foodies in JLT is the sort of place you could expect to find Bourdain and Obama sharing a meal together.
However, VF position themselves as ‘Authentic Health Food,’ which got my Spidey Senses tingling straight off the bat. Authentic is such a dangerous word, often misused and overused. A bit like truffles, if you follow my Instagram feed. If you don’t, you should. When companies use the word authentic, it sets off all kinds of alarms. If you have to tell me you’re authentic, then are you really? We have this thing called instinct. When our gut feels like something is off, it tells us. Surely it is the customers prerogative to determine the level of authenticity?
And what is authentic anymore anyway? Alas, that’s for another article.
The next alarm bell that was ringing was the use of ‘health food’. Are Vietnamese Foodies simply adding a Vietnamese twist to kale, quinoa and coconut oil, (which is the new devil’s food, BTW) Health food has had such a bad run over the years, with menus of uninspired, flavourless roughage, and I was genuinely worried we would be seeing acai & avocado spring rolls with a sweet kale dip.
However, you’ll be pleased to learn that VF haven’t ‘Frankenstein’ed’ their cuisine, as Vietnamese food is some of the world’s healthiest, frequently making it into the top ten along with Greece, Japan, Sweden and, err, Chad, which surprisingly tops the list, according to the Lancet Global Health survey.
In fact, Pho, the Vietnamese noodle soup is regarded as one of the most nutritionally balanced meals in the world. It has proteins and carbs, some fats, dietary fibres, vitamins, and minerals all in a bowl of deliciousness. The Goi Cuon or fresh spring rolls are translucent rice paper packed with vegetables and herbs, have virtually no oil, almost zero fat and are utterly delicious.
On the other hand, Slovakia has the unhealthiest cuisine where they have Bryndzove Halushky – potato dumplings with full-fat sheep cheese and roasted bacon, Zemiakové Placky – potato pancakes fried in generous amounts of oil with garlic and flour and full-fat cheese, deep fried in breadcrumbs. Imagine a Chad expat living in Bratislava!
Back in VF, the tables are crammed into the small dining room, taking intimate dining to an almost illegal level. The AC is on the blink, and their good intentioned solution of aiming a high powered fan directly at your face was quickly dismissed by The Serb.
The place was full when we arrived, but we got lucky and took a recently vacated table against the wall.
A menu with foreign words does not last long in The Serb’s hands, and after pointing to a picture of a salad, she discarded the menu and left the rest to me. The menu is quite sizeable for the size of the kitchen and does not strictly limit itself to Vietnamese food. There’s a Tom Yam soup from Thailand and Dim Sum from China. True to their word, they have kept the menu as fresh and healthy as possible, there are a very few fried items on the menu and a good selection of vegan and vegetarian options too.
The salad the Serb pointed to turned out to be the Goi Ga Bap Cai or chicken cabbage salad. I also ordered the Honey BBQ steamed buns which don’t have a Vietnamese translation, strangely. I added a Bún Ga Nuong, a dish of grilled chicken satay with rice noodles and a dipping sauce. Of course, you can’t go to a Vietnamese restaurant without ordering the Goi Cuon Ga Nuong Ngu Vi, otherwise known as chicken lettuce spring rolls.
I was tempted to go for the Pho, but it was about 400 degrees outside, and with a dodgy AC unit, I didn’t want to risk ordering a piping hot noodle broth.
The dining room has little decor, its unadorned simplicity defining its function – this is clearly a place to focus on and enjoy the food, first and foremost.
I feel like I am jumping on the bandwagon a little late here, but I must say, the food was delicious. It was flavourful yet light, showing excellent command of herbs, spices, and flavouring. The spring rolls were translucent, fresh and utterly moorish. They had a great texture, the soft chicken and the crunchy vegetables combining beautifully in the mouth.
The buns were stretchy-soft, generously filled with piping hot, fragrant sweet chicken. The chicken cabbage salad was balanced, crunchy and refreshing, with plenty of fresh coriander, the most magnificent herb on the planet.
The Bún Ga Nuong was again a well balanced and complete meal – a good portion of cold rice noodles, satay coated grilled chicken pieces and a fragrant sweet dipping sauce.
Lily Hoa Nguyen, a Vietnamese from Hai Pong, is the unlikely culinary drive behind the VF menu. With no formal culinary training, she used to offer private cooking classes before convincing herself to open her first restaurant. I am glad she did because that was a masterclass in Vietnamese cooking.
If you haven’t been, I suggest you roll up your sleeves, unbutton your top button and grab a stool.
Lake Terrace Tower
Cluster D, JLT
Lunch for two – 133.45