Vietnamese cuisine has always been popular in Hong Kong but there have been few attempts in an upscale rendering or to insist on authenticity. Even the 25-year-old institution Golden Bull has become somewhat of a ‘Chinese-fied’ version. An Nam, occupying Lawry’s old space at Lee Gardens, is trying to achieve both. With design heavyweights Steve Leung on interiors and Tino Kwan on lighting, the teal-coloured dining room with dark wood furniture, accented by peacock-coloured silk cushions, exudes a distant air of colonialism without negotiating contemporary elegance.
The menu is extensive and inspired by the cuisine of Hue, in central Vietnam. We start with two favourites – cha gio and pho bo. The cha gio – or deep fried spring roll ($108) – has a savoury combination of crabmeat, shrimp and pork. Served with bib lettuce, the finely chopped filling is balanced and not oily, which happens when most restaurants pre-fry their spring rolls to save time. The pho bo ($98) uses tender Angus beef with a rich broth slightly on the sweeter side, which is typical of Hanoi fare.
Moving on to mains, the An Nam roasted chicken ($168) is succulent and juicy, but the accompanying perfectly fried glutinous rice cakes steal the show, with a crispness similar to a hash brown but with a chewy, moist centre. The sautéed tiger prawns with tamarind sauce ($238) are tangy – although they’re a bit on the small size and the flesh isn’t plump. The braised basa fish hot pot ($180) fares much better, with a sweetness similar to a Japanese teriyaki but with a kick from the Vietnamese fish sauce, peppers and chilli, and although the pot appears small, it’s filled to the rim with firm chunks of basa fish. The sophisticated drinks and dessert menu is a plus, offering innovative sweets like mango pannacotta ($80) served with a passion fruit sauce.
An Nam is definitely a pricier option for Vietnamese in Hong Kong but, for once, you won’t find yourself drowning everything in nuoc mam sauce to offset the taste of poor quality meat! Leslie Chan
An Nam 4/F, Lee Gardens One, 33 Hysan Ave, Causeway Bay, 2787 3922. Dinner for two: $1,000.
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