Barbara Adam checks out the “sequel” to the popular AnAn restaurant, a tiny little bar dedicated to the Vietnamese art of drinking and eating, Nhau Nhau. Photos by Angeli Castillo.
So it follows that Nhau Nhau is also a small place with a big concept. It’s an intimate 18-seat bar on the second floor of Peter Cuong Franklin’s “modern Vietnamese” restaurant An An (which means “eat eat”).
“Nhau Nhau captures the spirit of Japanese izakayas, Spanish tapas and Thai aahaan kap… just sitting on the street, eating and drinking and laughing,” Peter said. “We are trying to elevate and modernise this concept.” Because Peter is all about food, a great bar menu is only to be expected. And the Vietnamese concept of nhau usually involves food, a lot of food and a lot of drinks. But you don’t have to fold yourself down into a tiny plastic chair for this experience. Nhau Nhau has full-sized bar stools.
“We elevate everything,” Peter laughed when I pointed this out to him. “Including the chairs!” I claim a stool and strike up a conversation with Tam, who behind the bar mixing a tamarind whiskey sour (VND175,000). He talks me through the drinks menu, which includes Vietnamese spirits, shots, fresh beer, Vietnamese-made sake and a selection of wines. There’s a little something for everyone, drinkwise. For those who love fiery stuff that burns all the way down, there’s bau da (brown rice wine), poured from a striking dragon-shaped bottle. For those who are into bizarre food experiences, there’s the balut cut lon (VND95,000), containing rice spirits, a fertilised quail egg and tamarind. Beer-lovers who need a break from the outbreak of craft beers in Ho Chi Minh City can quench their thirst with a bia hoi Sai Gon (VND85,000), a southern version of the popular Hanoi curbside fresh beer. And for those who like drinking really nice cocktails, there’s the aforementioned tamarind whiskey sour, a deliciously refreshing blend of sweet, sour and creaminess.
“This is the new nhau,” Peter said. And the new nhau includes new-style pho and banh mi.
We sample the lobster pho (VND375,000), a stunning bowl of perfectly-poached lobster tail, crab, tofu, tomato, dill and noodles. The broth is delicious, if decidedly un-pho-like, with no trace of star anise and cinnamon. It’s still pho, though, says Peter, because in Vietnam the dish is defined by the noodles, and he uses pho noodles for this one.
The bowl is small enough that you could order a second dish and not explode. The truffle pho, with wagyu rare beef, 24-hour beef rib and black truffles (VND225,000) is a likely contender for a second bowl. But I’m also eyeing the foie gras banh mi with foie gras, duck breast, confit duck leg, pate and black truffle mayo (VND175,000).
And then Peter shows me the tasting menus: four courses for VND490,000, or VND790,000 for four courses with paired wines; and seven courses for VND790,00, or VND1,190,000 for seven courses with paired wine.
There’s nothing for it. I’m just going to have to keep coming back to Nhau Nhau til I’ve tried everything on the menu!