Saturday, September 7, 2013

Vietnam comes to Surrey Crescent

VIETNAMESE FOOD CONNOISSEUR Aunty Jenny spied on a new eatery Café Viet in Surrey Crescent, Grey Lynn and rang up from there. As the Warriors were performing under par even though their whole final 8 hopes were pinned on a win, I decided to pre-empt the disappointment and venture out to try a Vietnamese restaurant that might end the dearth of any Vietnamese restaurant of note. And what a better way than try the cuisine with a Vietnamese food expert.

   Café Viet is a welcoming place. Chef Joni Hong Hoang said I looked familiar before I sat down. "Are you a film star?" she enquired. I was rather flummoxed and muttered that in my previous life, I could have claimed some vestiges of printed fame. Joni's mother Dap Nguyen has been brought in to assist in the kitchen. She does instill a sense of comfort and confidence that we will not be served pseudo-Vietnamese with lashings of nouc mam, as if that is a panacea for indifferent food that claims Vietnamese rite of cuisine.
   Hoang and her partner Darryn Bell started with an an empty shell with white walls. Their concept was to re-create an old Vietnamese alley with broken window, cheap advertisements on the wall and an overall rustic look. The look is achieved, best experienced in the evening when the warm lights lend a glow to the culinary delights that is to descend on the table.
   Aunty ordered 2 dishes. Bánh Xéo and Thịt Kho Hǭt Gà. I left the choices to Aunty as she knows best, but only on the proviso that prawns and beef be left out. The Bánh Xéo is a crisp Rice Flour Crepe with mung beans traditional from southern Vietnam, stuffed with braised pork, prawns, sprouts and fresh herbs, served with nuoc cham. Instead of prawns, chef substituted with seared tofu. And a lemon, garlic, chilli and salt dressing with a hint of sweet as a alternative to the dreaded fish sauce. I was well pleased. Even Aunty was impressed by this dipping sauce. Her only reservation, the crepe should have been crisper.

   The Thịt Kho Hǭt Gà  is caramelised pork hotpot, pork belly with free-range deep-fried boiled egg, served with crunchy sprout salad and steamed rice. The pork belly was perfectly cooked, and the texture fell away as you eat it. Only reservation was that it should have been rewarded with more kick in flavours as it was predominantly soya-based with the traditional sweetness.

   The Café Viet Durian Ice-cream Sundae looked tempting but we had been well sated. You can also have the Café Viet coffee, served with condensed milk.
   Aunty was well pleased with her find. I can only concur with her. Lately only Café Hanoi has been serving Vietnamese food worth noting but it suffers from a lack of kick in their flavours. The new Mekong Baby is more fusion and has other Southeast Asian influences. Hansan disappoints with their bland approach to a vibrant cuisine, and the Vietnamese joints in Otahuhu like Samwoo and Vietnam Café has not moved on from the days when Vietnamese food meant pho, nuoc mam, bean sprouts and petite deep-fried spring rolls.
   Café Viet is promising. It's more homely Vietnamese, though the presentation is top notch. Tonight, there are a few family groups, a testament to it's approach to cooking. And it's a cuisine where you can add the accompaniments, be it in the fresh herbs and sauces that are nouc mam-based. We also noted some diners who just order a dish for themselves. All Asian cuisine should be shared dishes, if you have a table of 3, you can easily share 3 different dishes.
   We left Café Viet happy. But on the car radio, I learn the Warriors had lost their must-win match to the Dragons. Drat! But the All Blacks would end up beating the Pumas but it wasn't the trouncing that was expected.

2 Surrey Crescent
Grey Lynn
Ph: (09) 3788738


  1. I must check this place out - heartened by seeing on their Facebook page that they grow their own herbs, as lack of those is all too common in Vietnamese joints here in NZ. Have you been to Parkside in Mt Albert? It's a café by day but Thur-Sun nights it serves Hanoi-style cuisine. Far bolder flavours than at Hansan and Samwoo, and lots of fresh herbs that owner Billie grows herself.

  2. Thanks Anna for the Parkside tip! I will certainly give it a try with one of my ‘aunties’ who is a Vietnamese food connoisseur. Agree with you about fresh herbs in Vietnamese cuisine. I tread carefully around Vietnamese food and try to steer clear of nouc mam, which sadly is an integral part of the cuisine. Give Cafe Viet a go, love to hear your verdict.