Monica Majors discovers some of Vietnam’s ancient royal cuisine at Mon Ngon Vietnam. Photos by Vinh Dao.
“Not another Vietnamese restaurant with a menu as long as the Iliad,” you may be thinking. With heavy-hitters like Cuc Gach Quan, Chi Hoa and Nha Hang Ngon, what specialties could possibly be left uneaten? Well, have you ever tried authentic royal Vietnamese cuisine?
Mon Ngon Vietnam’s restaurant and cooking class sits tucked in District 3, its brightly-coloured sign trimmed with blooming flowers. The building is a modestly converted home, but here beautiful monochrome tiles and lotus drawings elevate the elegance. Natural light shines through the wrought-iron trimmed windows and bold splashes of turquoise pillows add just the right amount of colour to the intimate dining room. The dark wood of the dining tables and chairs tie together the look and feel of an upscale home ready to serve some of the most delicious food in the country.
Director Vo Dinh Quoc created the restaurant’s menu with the intention of providing some of the nation’s most regal dishes to us poor peons. With experience of cooking for the Singaporean Prime Minister’s family on a visit to Vietnam years back, Chef Vo Quoc is well-known among locals; as the country’s first Vietnamese Culinary Culture Ambassador, as a Council Member of the 2013 World Street-food Congress (photographed on Facebook alongside number one Vietnamese food-fan Anthony Bourdain), and as a leading TV personality on shows like Masterchef.
When I sat down with him and business director Trinh Tuong Van they told me their goal is to, “set up a home-style restaurant, like family dining.” Van continued, translating for Vo Quoc, “We have a lot of Vietnamese restaurants in HCMC, but here we feature a little of all the regions, focussing on the authentic flavours of ancient Vietnamese royal cuisine.”
A beautifully presented spread of three salads (red grapefruit with crab, baby shrimp and flower, and coconut tree and scallops – VND139,000 to VND199,000) led the presentation, followed by stir-fried Vietnamese abalone with shredded vegetables (VND119,000). My absolute favourite was the braised pork with orange (VND139,000), a simple, yet sumptuous dish that I refused to share with others. Other dishes like the sautéed tuberose (VND159,000) are unavailable in other Vietnamese restaurants, and I have never had a sweet and sour soup (VND99,000) quite like the one here.
Drinks are no less tasty, and it’s rare that I can find cinnamon tea (VND49,000), let alone in iced form with such zest. Guests can also opt for the cooking class on the second floor, with either Chef Vo Quoc or other notables offering two hour classes at US$40 per person including a market tour to purchase the best ingredients. It all takes comfort food to the next level.