COCONUTS CRITIC’S TABLE – In October, Hong Kong’s English-speaking media scene promptly lost its collective cool (how much cool it/we had to lose is debatable, but oh well) when it was announced that Australian-Vietnamese chef Luke Nguyen would be opening his first restaurant in the city.
Months later, Moi Moi, Nguyen’s contemporary Vietnamese venture with ZS Hospitality Group, has finally (and quietly) opened its doors to the public. Curious to check it out for myself but armed with little to no experience of “authentic” pho, I headed down there with an Australian acquaintance and self-confessed pho addict, who’s probably spent more time wolfing down noodles in Cabramatta (a.k.a. Sydney’s Little Saigon) than I’ve been alive.
Photo: Moi Moi by Luke Nguyen via Facebook
Upon entering the space, it was obvious that the casual, “chic canteen” vibe of its previous tenant, Viet Kitchen, had been swapped for a more upmarket aesthetic in line with Nguyen’s restaurants in Australia, Fat Noodle and Red Lantern. Think dark wood furnishings, squishy banquettes upholstered in plush green velvet, round curio cabinets, and a slightly hypnotising accent wall.
Part of Moi Moi’s interior, ft. aforementioned squishy banquettes. Photo: Annette Chan/Coconuts Media
The Moi Moi lunch set (HKD168 plus service) includes one starter, a main, and a drink (fizzy drinks, coffee or tea, excluding Vietnamese coffee). Nguyen previously described the cuisine to Hong Kong Tatler as “Vietnamese street food with an Australian accent”, and the restaurant’s name is explained in the menu to mean “new/modern/fresh” and “welcome/invite/come in”.
Despite the fact that the restaurant had only been in its soft opening phrase for four days, the wait staff were on their game with friendly and knowledgeable service. (I don’t have to like that you can’t add a fee to change your drink, but I respect that the staff know that off the bat.) Nguyen, who’s in town to oversee the opening, keeps a watchful eye on proceedings, and makes a point to welcome diners and explain some of the dishes, which is a rather nice touch.
Mango salad. Photo: Annette Chan/Coconuts Media
I opted for Vietnamese netted spring rolls (“cha gio re”) and salmon pho, while my friend went for the mango salad with Australian spanner crab, Vietnamese mint, rambutan and crispy shallot, and the wagyu beef pho. Our drinks and appetisers arrived quickly, although the mango salad was supplemented with tiger prawns after the kitchen reportedly ran out of crab. While that wasn’t an issue in and of itself, it was only 1pm on its fourth day of service, so here’s hoping they’ll be better prepared for the Central lunch rush in the future.
Vietnamese netted spring rolls. Photo: Annette Chan/Coconuts Media
The salad itself was fresh (the first of many times I’ll be using that word) and enjoyable to eat with the contrasting textures and flavours of the ingredients… at least, according to my dining companion. However, I was pretty confident I’d made the better choice when a plate of crunchy golden parcels of lacy pastry stuffed with pork, prawn, crab, wood ear mushroom, taro and glass noodles arrived at the table. Sure, it might not have been the healthier choice, but the spring rolls are eaten with lettuce anyway, so salad dodgers like myself still get a little veg in there (which I smothered in nuoc cham dipping sauce, but whatever). As expected, they were de-bloody-licious.
Pho-to: Annette Chan/Coconuts Media
Onto mains, my first experience with fish pho was a revelation, to say the least. Despite having begrudgingly ordered the salmon in order to sample as many dishes as possible, I quickly realised that I was an idiot for underestimating the dish. The broth, while fresh (told ya) and light, was a vibrant and well-balanced mix of fish sauce, chilli, Thai basil, sawtooth coriander, citrus and salmon. The fish itself, which is proudly touted as “sashimi grade” on the menu, was flaky, plentiful, and lightly poached in the soup, with a rare pink centre. The noodles, although a touch softer than I would’ve preferred, were lovely and supple – and as my friend happily noted, “actually the right kind of noodle”.
The most anticipated dish was, however, the wagyu pho. The menu boasts this dish as the restaurant’s “signature”, and rightly so – the soup, which has been cooked for 18 hours, is a full-impact, meaty broth with incredible depth of flavour. My friend, whose expression was somewhere between joyous and smug, reported back that the accompanying slices of beef were “very tender”, the noodles were “just right”, and that he had found his favourite pho in Hong Kong. While both mains came with hoisin sauce and sriracha, the fact that we rarely reached for the condiments is a testament to how good the broths were.
So yes. Moi Moi indeed lives up to its name as a modern, fresh, and welcome addition to the Vietnamese dining scene in Hong Kong. I look forward to my next visit.
Coconuts Critic’s Table reviews are written based on unannounced visits by our writers and paid for by Coconuts Media.
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