An ambitious plan to serve Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese cuisines under one roof, and somehow it works
Ngon Asia House (2nd-4th floor, Saigon Garden, 99 Nguyen Hue, D1) is the ultimate in Asian dining, with five separate kitchens and five trained chefs dedicated to five different cuisines—Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese—spread out over three floors.
I’m usually wary of restaurants that serve food from more than one country, let alone five. With a menu of well over 400 items including drinks and desserts it was both overwhelming and wonderful.
However, here is the difference between NGON and most tourist traps that tend to cater to everyone: NGON has five head chefs specifically trained in their respective cuisine supervising each kitchen. And the result? A hugely diverse menu with quality to back it up. There is, literally, something for everyone.
We ordered dishes from each country and started with Vietnam—grilled minced pork meatballs with rice vermicelli (VND95,000).
The tender and succulent meatballs were served with lettuce, noodles and rice paper. We used the rice paper to wrap up the meatballs, lettuce and noodles and dipped it unceremoniously in a bowl of sweet fish sauce. The taste was a fantastic combination of sweet, salty, tender and crunchy all in one. To further enhance the flavors, I sipped on a glass of their Cabernet Sauvignon house wine (VND95,000) while my two companions indulged in a refreshingly pulpy mango passion juice (VND65,000)
and a mojito (VND75,000), which was light, limy and not too sweet.
With such a delicious start, we continued onto Thailand. The Thai red curry with roasted duck served with jasmine rice (VND95,000) was exactly what you would expect in Thailand, evenly spiced throughout the sauce and duck, with that great mix of sweet, spicy and creamy.
The duck was tender, complementing the sauce in winning fashion. Next we explored one of the trendiest cuisines at the moment—Korean. Taking advice from my fellow diner (who’s a quarter Korean) we ordered rice with grilled pork ribs (VND85,000) served with lettuce, sticky rice, soybean paste, tiny dried fish and kim chi.
Following directions from the expert, we placed the pork in the middle of the lettuce leaf, added slivers of rice and kim chi then sprinkled on tiny dried fish—the only problem with this dish was that we wanted more. It was such a fabulous medley of flavors and textures I could have gone on all night eating it, but we had to move on to the last remaining countries: Japanese and Chinese.
For Japanese, we ordered the sashimi rice bowl (VND95,000).
When it comes to Japanese food, the rule is: If it’s done properly, it’s one of the top five greatest cuisines in the world. And this was the proof—sweet and vinegary sticky sushi rice blanketed in a heavenly assortment of salmon, shrimp, tuna and crab. It’s hard to imagine how such a simple dish can produce such astonishing flavors, but it does so prodigiously. For our last hurrah before the desserts we ordered two items from the Chinese menu. One was the classic mapo doufu, or spicy Sichuan tofu (VND75,000).
Hailing from the Sichuan province of China, the dish was an awesome mix of tofu set in a spicy chili bean based sauce. It’s a classic of the province, famous for its oily red sauces which rely heavily on the iconic Sichuan pepper. The other dish—a standout of the night— steamed Shanghai soup dumplings (VND75,000).
These artfully prepared dumplings have just enough thickness in the dough to house inside a steaming mix of scrumptious broth and ground pork. It’s an explosion of flavors when you bite in; the richness of the broth coupled with the tenderness of the pork is nothing short of spectacular. If you’re a fan of dumplings, go here. If you’re not, go here and forever be a dumpling fan.
For desserts we tried three eccentric treats. The mango pudding (VND45,000) was my personal favorite, doused in a layer of condensed milk, it was a creamy affair.
The taro cassava green beans, seaweed, water chestnut in coconut milk (VND35,000) was exotic in every way you could think of, and as strange at its sounds it was actually everything you want in a dessert, sweet and satisfying with a textural afterthought that is incredibly memorable.
And last, but not least, glutinous balls in ginger syrup and coconut milk (VND35,000) again, it’s a great juxtaposition of satisfyingly sweet, strangeness and a great way to end a fantastic dinner.
As of June, NGON Asia House has eliminated the money card ordering system. The restaurant is now fully staffed with waiters and the previous five separate menus have been incorporated into one, reducing confusion among first time diners.
IMAGES BY NGOC TRAN AND NGON ASIA HOUSE