Friday, March 22, 2019

Hidden Vietnamese Gem

Chef Que Vinh Dang seems to have gone off-radar from the local dining scene for a while, ever since his last project (Quest by Que) couldn't replicate the success as his earlier venture TBLS in Central, which we and many people loved with his take of western cooking with an Asian twist in a private kitchen-like setting. But he’s back with his new restaurant called Nhau recently, this time going back to his Vietnamese root, but with a similar style of fine dining in a casual vibe.

A few friends have tried and raved about the food there before so I was excited when our friend C (who’s handling the PR for the restaurant) invited us for a dinner tasting. The location was a bit off the beaten track, a few steps down from Man Mo Temple at the end of a dark alley (which I didn’t know exist until the day I went for the meal) The façade of the restaurant resembles that of a French bistro with the nice tiled floor and huge windows looking out to the pedestrian-only street, but inside, there’s a touch of Vietnamese décor with rattan chairs and lamp shades, plus the beautifully painted dish covers and wooden charcuterie boards hanging on the wall which are both aesthetic and practical.

The dishes came soon after we sat down. We began with the Hamachi bowl, a twist to the traditional Vietnamese Cha Ca dish, with slices of Hamachi fish cured with fish sauce and turmeric served cold with thin rice noodles with dill. I love that refreshing flavor with the punchy and umami-rich fish sauce and all the aromatic spices.

Nhau is perhaps one of the rare Vietnamese restaurants in town that doesn’t have familiar dishes like Banh Mi or Pho on the menu, but instead they got “Banh Mi Rice Tacos”, small bite-sized open sandwiches served with rice flour tortillas made in-house. We enjoyed both types we tried, including one vegetarian version made with the Impossible plant-based “meat”, which went well with the house-made pickles on top and a slight palm sugar kick to balance with the fish sauce flavor added.

The Roasted Cauliflower was my favorite of the evening, again with that salivating savory-sweet combination of fish sauce and sugar mixed into the cauliflower florets, and it’s stopped with cilantro and caramelized pork floss. The whole spring chicken was perfectly done – well-brined and cooked sous-vide with tender and juicy meat and crispy and slightly-charred skin. All it needs was a drizzle of lime juice and to be eaten wrapped in lettuce and herbs.

The Pork Belly Banh Xeo was an upscale version of what we were more familiar with normally from a street stall, as it was well-plated with thin slices of grilled pork belly served with rice flour crisp on the side and rice noodles and herbs underneath. Chef Que also took his hometown dish of Bun Rieu for a complete facelift, served using the sticky rice flour “gnocchi” (with a bouncy texture like Japanese mochi) smothered in a rich tomato and crab sauce. I could live with slightly stronger crab flavor to contrast with that from the sweet tomatoes, but it was a fun dish to try with that interesting texture.

We also got to try all three desserts offered on the menu. A bit of sticker shock initially to be honest when I saw the dessert menu, but turned out each was enormous – I had no problem finishing one by myself but it’s more than enough to share with 2 or 3 people. I couldn’t quite say which one I liked most as they were all very good, but the salted caramel ice cream sundae served with panna cotta, caramelized bananas and shredded coconuts was perhaps the most memorable with that savory-sweet goodness reminding me of those delicious desserts Chef Que served in the TBLS days.

What a hidden gem and a nice comeback for a chef well-liked by many. I will be back some time for more. 

When? March 12 2019
Where? Nhau, 12 Circular Pathway, Sheung Wan
Menu Highlights? Roasted cauliflower with caramelised pork koh quet

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