Vietnam, here we come
Chicken in coconut juice, rice rolls with shrimps and water spinach salad are among the top draws at the new Vietnam House.
THERE are a few dishes that I do like when it comes to Vietnamese food.
The first is pho or beef noodles, the best of which is to be found in Vietnam, of course, or in a “beefy country” like Australia, where a lot of Vietnamese have settled and you can be sure of the best beef stock. Another is the rice roll, rather like our chee cheong fun, but theirs is really smooth.
Fish sauce, lemon juice, lemongrass, and coconut juice are frequently used in Vietnamese cooking, as well as fresh herbs like sweet basil, mint and Vietnamese mint (daun kesom); all of which make for a unique taste. At Vietnam House, in the “new” old wing of One Utama in Petaling Jaya, you can get a gentle introduction to Vietnamese cuisine by ordering a variety of dishes in a combo set, or by ordering off the ala carte menu.
The combo sets come with a salad, soup, rice, spring rolls and whatever main course you choose.
The restaurant has a striking Vietnamese décor, complete with colourful lamps, fans, carvings and paintings. The waitresses are dressed in red ao dai, the traditional Vietnamese dress, and the waiters in black Vietnamese suits.
When I drop in, I must have my soursop milkshake, which I love for the right combination of fruit and milk in a fine ice-blended drink. Vietnam House’s version is so creamy, with the lovely aroma of soursop. We asked for two straws, and they obliged with a pink and a green one.
I chose from the combo sets, picking the Chicken Braised in Fresh Coconut Juice with Egg served in claypot, and also the Flaming Seafood in Aluminium Foil Packet. The food was prettily assembled on a tray. And each set came with a mango salad, fried spring rolls, rice and soup.
The sweetness of coconut juice embraced the chicken stewed in the claypot. It’s a delicious sauce to slurp up and to eat with the rice. I even liked the hard boiled egg in it. The mango salad has agar agar strips and carrot in it, and perched on top is a crispy black sesame rice cracker. Tossed in a lightly hot and subtle dressing, the salad went especially well with the fried spring rolls that came with the usual Vietnamese dipping sauce.
The Flaming Seafood Packet, meanwhile, is a hot plate of prawns, squid, mushrooms, snow peas and cauliflower, with more vegetables than seafood. I thought it all came together rather well, though, thanks to the lovely sauce.
We also ordered the Water Spinach Salad with Shrimps. The vegetable, dipped in tempura batter and deepfried, offered lots of crunch together with the julienned mango and carrot. The fish sauce dressing was wonderfully tangy, with a bit of sweetness. The sauce clung to the kangkung stems, which stayed crispy till the end, and the prawns atop it.
I have tried two types of rice rolls in Vietnam House. One is the Shrimp Roll, which is filled with pounded dried shrimps and chilli and topped with green pickled chillies. It comes with the usual dipping sauce and a salad of carrot and radish. Pop a roll into your mouth, and you’ll revel in the smoothness that’s almost creamy. The dried shrimps have just the right salty tang and aroma.
The other is the Rice Rolls with Grilled Lemongrass Beef, with lots of fried shallots sprinkled on top. While it has the same sticky smoothness, and there are also fragrant hints of lemongrass in the beef, I didn’t like the beansprouts in the filling. It made the rolls a little soggy.
I have tried the pho here, too, and while the beef balls are very good and have the right bounciness, the stock could do with more beef flavour. No pork is served in this restaurant, and there are interesting beef dishes I would go back for, such as the Grilled Beef in Bamboo Tube, and Spicy Vietnamese Oxtail Stew.
The Stirfried Half Shell Scallop with Tamarind Sauce, and Steamed Fresh Prawns in Young Coconut sound good too. As for salads, there is the Yam Salad with Squid and the Pomelo Salad with Dried Calamari that stand out in the menu.
The combo sets range from RM15.90 to RM20.90 (for the seafood packet), while the soursop milkshake is RM6.90 and the rice rolls are RM6.90 for four rolls.
Vietnam House is located at S122, Level 2,1 bandar Utama, Old Wing, Petaling Jaya, Selangor ( 03-7727 0778).