Vietnamese food outside of Vietnam too often tends to boil down to two dishes: pho and banh mi (and sometimes goi cuon, the herb-and-vermicelli-stuffed fresh spring rolls, depending on how frisky your local pho/banh mi joint is feeling).
That being the case, we here at Coconuts HK are always happy to see new restaurants willing to dig a bit deeper into Vietnam’s impressively deep roster of sweet-sour-salty-funky classics. Enter Nhau, a new Sheung Wan eatery from chef Que Vinh Dang that traffics in, well, not classics per se, but creative riffs on beloved dishes that, if anything, lend themselves better to sharing among groups — ideally over drinks (which, incidentally, is the idea).
(FYI, during the soft opening period, while Nhau is sorting out its liquor license, BYOB is encouraged.)
Nhau’s design makes subtle nods to Vietnam, utilizing the colored tiles and perforated brickwork common to Indochina, without trying to pass itself off as a transplanted Hoi An shophouse. The food, meanwhile, similarly evokes the Mekong Delta and points north without necessarily being recognizable at first glance.
In fact, a good starting point might be the venerable banh mi, served at Nhau in the form of three petite tacos. (We know what you’re thinking, and you can go ahead and get the twee-fusion-induced eye-rolling out of your system now — these are actually fantastic.)
Served on homemade rice flour “tortillas,” the banh mi tacos feature Iberico pork — probably better known for its role in delicious, exorbitantly expensive Spanish jamón. While one might argue that this constitutes a cynical and needless gourmet-ification of an inherently humble snack, know that this filling packs a palpable porcine punch, one that actually gives the sweet-and-sour pickled carrot and daikon something to push back against.
Indeed, the filling tastes heartier by far than the average wan mystery meat generally stuffed into banh mi on the streets of Ho Chi Minh. (And for the record, that is neither a knock on mystery meat nor street sandwiches, both of which are unsung heroes. But with the tacos priced at HK$120 an order, compared to about HK$12 for your average banh mi in Vietnam, this filling frankly should be better, and is.)
Another Vietnamese specialty to get a makeover is the banh xeo, typically a turmeric-tinged crepe often folded over a filling of bean sprouts, ground pork, and shrimp, and dipped in nuoc cham, Vietnam’s ubiquitous fish sauce-and-lime-based condiment.
In Nhau’s version (HK$160), the crisp-edged crepe is reimagined as shatteringly crunchy shards of thin rice cake, and the ground pork is swapped out for meaty chunks of slow-cooked pork belly. The shrimp were apparently lost along the way at some point, but diners are unlikely to miss them. The pork on its own is excellent, and the rice chips make for an imminently shareable dish.
And speaking of nuoc cham, Nhau sets out jars of three house-made variations on every table. All are good, but the herbaceous green variety is particularly fun if you’re in the mood for something out of the ordinary.
Also out of the ordinary is the bo la lot tartare. The original dish consists of seasoned meat rolled in betel leaves and grilled, while Nhau’s version (HK$150) dispenses with both rolling and grilling, mixing finely minced raw Australian beef with betel puree and curried mayo.
The result is a subtly flavored, herbal tartare with a uniformly tender texture set off by a nest of airy crisps. The crisps, achieved by putting beef tendon through a wringer of commercial kitchen processes, call to mind delicate pork rinds — as oxymoronic as that may sound.
Roasted cauliflower with caramelized pork koh quet (HK$140) was another winner, with chewy nubs of our old friend Iberico pork accompanying the nicely browned veg in a sweet and spicy sauce.
Cheffier by a long shot is the hamachi bowl (HK$180), which transfers the flavors of the Hanoi dish cha ca la Vong — usually catfish, fried with abundant dill and turmeric — onto a more sashimi-like preparation. Nhau marinates the hamachi with turmeric and serves it over a bright, dill-laced cold noodle salad with pickles and a dusting of fried turmeric batter on top.
Dessert, meanwhile, was a sundae (HK$140) of Vietnamese coffee-flavored ice cream, coffee-infused sponge cake, and a drizzle of condensed milk, with a few chunks of chocolate strewn about for good measure. While our palate skews more towards cheese plates than cheesecakes, the ice cream was quite nice, and sure to please anyone who’s a fan of ca phe sua da.
The one minor stumble of the evening came in the form of the grilled chicken with fish sauce salt. Though the bird was beautifully cooked — skin crispy, meat tender and moist — it suffered from uneven seasoning that the fish sauce-infused salt on the side couldn’t quite make up for.
Still, after several very good dishes to come out of the kitchen, this was an admittedly small quibble, and may well be rectified on future visits — which we intend to make.
Nhau is located at 12 Circular Pathway, Central, Hong Kong
Phone: +852 3612 4568
Open Tues-Sat, 12:30pm-2:30pm (lunch); 6pm-10:30pm (dinner)