Phu Quoc, also known as the Island of Pearls, is one of the fastest-growing tourist destinations in Southeast Asia. It’s renowned for its beautiful beaches, fantastic weather, warm hospitality, and proximity to most of Asia’s megacities. The New World Phu Quoc Resort is one of the most anticipated recent openings on the southwestern tip of Phu Quoc, facing the acclaimed Kem Beach, which has been voted amongst the best beaches in the world.
So a resort the size of a small town like this, housing 375 private villas and able to sleep up to 2,000 people on any given evening, requires a significant food and beverage operation to cater to the diverse requirements of their local and international guests.
Accordingly, this is a department where the New World Phu Quoc Resort has invested significantly with myriad dining options ranging from “The Bay Kitchen,” their huge all-day dining concession, to their flagship “Lua” (meaning Fire in Vietnamese) wood-fired and charcoal restaurant supported by tasty bites available all day around the beach and pool with bespoke packages offered to guests wishing to dine-in at their villas. A central theme through all of their outlets is a laser focus on fresh, local ingredients using traditional cooking techniques alongside the availability of a host of classic international dishes.
Recently, Chef Pankaj Bisht (Culinary Director) and Giacomo Maroccia (Food & Beverage Manager) were considering how best to announce the presence of their culinary program to the world. Seemingly inspired by the Hollywood smash hit movie “The Avengers,” they unboxed their transmitter pager to contact some of Saigon’s most prominent hospitality heroes. Culinary rock stars from Quince and Madam Kew, chefs Julien Perraudin and Bao La were swiftly recruited alongside Italian maestro sommelier Giulio Iazzetta from Wine Cellar Vietnam to feature at a one-of-a-kind one-night-only experience titled “Progressive Dinner.” Truong Huynh, the fabulous founder of Bittersweet & Co, which is considered by many to be the best craft cocktail bar on the island, was with his team of mixologists to serve the best liquid libations for the guests.
The definition of progressive, in this case, was all about pushing boundaries on a step-by-step basis with the intention of a gradually increasing impact. The dinner was intended to be staged across four locations, serving different courses from different chefs.
Pankaj Bisht, Director of Culinary, summed up the purpose of the evening: “The Progressive dining concept is designed to showcase all our dining venues at our resort, highlighting the wide variety of cuisines on offer in our restaurants and the unlimited options of creating customized menus for families and small groups to provide a true destination dining experience at New World Phu Quoc.”
We could not start the dinner on the beach because of the inclement weather but guests were greeted warmly with cocktails poolside outside of the Lua flagship restaurant. Truong’s mixologists were decked out in Hawaiian shirts and straw boater hats, serving delectable cocktails made from refreshing sparkling wine, a Spanish premium gin, and a 12-year-old single malt whisky. Delicious canapés were passed around to ignite the palette with foie gras, tofu, tartare, and tempura-style creations.
Bao La was waiting in Lua alongside New World’s Chef Phuong Nguyen to serve the first courses. Bao established himself at the illustrious Le Garcon Saigon in Hong Kong, showcasing the best Vietnamese ingredients and culinary techniques.
It was no surprise to see this duo serving up some tasty local prawns “drunken style,” a magical medley of shellfish followed by a dish inspired by Bao’s time in Hong Kong with a crossover dish of superior Cantonese soup flavored with Phu Quoc Abalone and Coral Trout.
Bao proudly shared with Vietcetera his realization that “Phú Quốc can be home to some of Vietnam’s most amazing seafood varieties” but also hopes that a sufficient allocation of the best produce will continue to be reserved for consumption on the island before being shipped to the mainland. Bao also hopes that as the island increasingly opens up to tourism, they will sustainably manage their fish stocks.
He cherished the experience: “The entire team at New World provided so much support to me, and I enjoyed producing a menu based on sharing and communal dining instead of the usual individual set menu. It was also heartening to see a 5-star resort collaborate with the local talent from the island and link up with Truong and his team at Bittersweet & Co”.
Bao also noted, “building a community and supporting each other goes a long way, especially when you are on an idyllic and secluded island like Phu Quoc.”
The talented, totemic, and multi-award-winning Executive Chef of Quince was waiting to welcome guests at the next stage of this culinary extravaganza. Julien Perraudin was cooking at their Bay Kitchen all-day dining outlet, which also features a beautifully appointed and very spacious private dining room which was our designated spot for this evening. Julien served up his famously delicious Quince steak aux poivres, wagyu sirloin MBS7 with pepper sauce, pairing perfectly with a Muga Reserva Spanish Riojan style of full-bodied red wine. Indeed, the wines provided throughout the dinner by Giulio Iazzetta from Wine Cellar were thoughtfully chosen, and guests appreciated Giulio’s friendly and witty communication skills as he explained at every juncture why and how he’d paired the wines with the menu. A special mention must also go to Chef Pankaj’s corn-fed butter chicken with makhani sauce and mango chutney, reminding us how much Indian cuisine is developing on the global stage.
Spirits amongst the guests were high at this stage as wine, hospitality, and friendliness abounded in equal measure. Yet, there would be one more twist in the tale of this memorable progressive dining experience. Guests were led by torchlight to one of New World’s flagship Beach Front villas to enjoy desserts in a family, sharing style to showcase their ‘dine in” facilities.
Chef Gayan Indika Gamachchige laid on a kaleidoscope of delicious desserts ranging from chocolate truffles to marshmallows through passionfruit panna cotta to my favorite Da Lat berries passionfruit curd tart. It was a perfect way to conclude such a memorable dinner, and it also feels fitting that Truong Huynh should have the last word.
“The Progressive Dinner is inspired by our Vietnamese family culture of sharing meals, fostering warmth, love, and togetherness. I was also so happy to see three esteemed international chefs sharing dishes with us that were inspired by their family culture and experiences, and I loved the variety and energy of the vibes created by staging the dinner in three different locations.” Truong concluded that this was indeed a “truly unique experience”.