A familiar name to many Vietnamese, Ngoc Suong is not just a legacy of Vietnam’s culinary industry, but an emblem of innovation and growth. The country has witnessed and embraced the changes it’s been through since it was established in 1955 — from serving traditional Vietnamese dishes to putting a modern spin into Saigon’s brand of hospitality.
The restaurant’s constantly evolving culinary spirit. Ngoc Suong Seafood & Bar, under the guidance of experienced chef/CEO Le Quoc Vinh, has been recognized in the Essence of Asia 2021 collection by Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants.
The Essence of Asia collection reflects the breadth of the continent’s gastronomic riches. And at a time when the hospitality sector across Asia is emerging from a prolonged crisis, this list provides travellers and gourmets with an invaluable guide to vibrant local dining spots while also celebrating some of the unsung heroes of the food community.
Vietcetera speaks with chef Le Quoc Vinh to celebrate this culinary victory, and to know the restaurant chain’s secret to being the “Essence of Asia”.
What was 2020 like to Ngoc Suong Seafood & Bar?
It’s fair to say the F&B industry has seen better years. However, if we look at it in a more positive angle, 2020 has put every brand’s survival ability to the test. And Ngoc Suong Seafood & Bar is no exception.
Even during this hard time, I never stop trying. Instead, I’ve come up with even more innovative ideas and created better dining experiences for our customers.
Festive dining concept is considered as a challenge to conquer, let alone in this trying time. But for me, despite all the concerns and doubts, I believe as a person running a restaurant, I need to fully commit to this vision with all my experience and knowledge, in one way or another.
Furthermore, Ngoc Suong Seafood & Bar is Vietnam's first restaurant to deliver an eat-drink-entertainment experience. That’s why I cannot just give up easily on this brainchild of mine.
Describe Ngoc Suong Seafood & Bar with three adjectives.
That would be devoted, sophisticated, and innovative.
First and foremost, “always stay devoted” is the fundamental principle of my family when it comes to any relationship and business.
You treat your employees with devotion. They get inspired, do their job whole-heartedly, and transfer that spirit into the service they offer to your customers.
At the same time, every single dish and architectural detail here in Ngoc Suong Seafood & Bar must always be sophisticated and innovative.
Congratulations to Ngoc Suong Seafood & Bar on being featured in Essence of Asia. What factor contributes to your restaurant's inclusion in this honorable list?
Honestly, I went from being super surprised to overwhelmed upon receiving that email from Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants.
What I've been working tirelessly on is elevating this restaurant's culinary experience to a new level with a lot more emotional aspects. And I believe that is how our restaurant got noticed.
Ngoc Suong has made its mark as a brand for 65 years, while this award was first introduced in 2013. But why has Ngoc Suong Seafood & Bar been recognized just now? This is due to the fact that Ngoc Suong Seafood & Bar owns the finesse of the brand of Ngoc Suong, along with other restaurants in Vietnam, in a fine dining style.
Can you walk us through the tasting menu mentioned by Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants?
This is actually the menu I created for the event in association with Anan Saigon. In fact, Ngoc Suong Seafood & Bar never had a tasting menu before as I don't want to limit the chef's creativity, as well as the dining experience.
Goi Ca (Fish Salad) has been a traditional dish of Ngoc Suong since 1955. I wanted to "re-shape" this dish by using molecular gastronomy technique to create a sphere that "traps" peanut sauce inside. This renovation carries out a modern appearance, yet preserves the nostalgic flavor that reminds diners of our iconic traditional fish salad.
Inspired by and named after Saigon River, this is a dish packed with many familiar features and preferences of Saigonese diners. I’d like to describe it as a sashimi-mosaic painting including scallop, tuna and salmon, with the base made from crostini crust spread with foie gras mousse.
If I had to choose, this would be my favorite dish in the tasting menu. Ba Lang is created based on the memory of a special friend. “Ba Lang” actually comes from the name of a place in Nha Trang city, where I fell in love with its tasty banh can – one of the main ingredients of this dish.
To me, possessing such a rich taste and a long history, banh can deserves much more honor. With this dish, in just one "bite" you will feel all kinds of flavors, from basic flavors to a variety of textures including crunchiness, softness and chewiness.
Abalone Trio is a creation made from my personal favorite ingredient - abalone. This dish is prepared using three different methods: 24-hour sous vide, abalone stew for broth, and abalone sashimi. The Eurasian elements are deliberately blended and intertwined to delight diners' taste buds.
King Crab R-Me is definitely a creative take on Ngoc Suong's popular fried tamarind crab, which is a creation of my mother, Nguyen Thi Kim Luong. For this dish, tamarind is transformed into jelly, while king crab meat is tempura-fried and coated with nuggets. With a touch of modern technology, I want to elevate the familiar taste of this dish to a higher level of refinement and satisfaction.
I think that everybody, including myself, is familiar with and enjoys this kind of childhood snack. While the toasties, also known as "hotdogs" in Vietnam, are baked in the same manner as those sold by vendors in front of your school gate, what makes it different is the significantly soft and fluffy texture.
All in all, the purpose behind this tasting menu is to send diners on a trip down to memory lane.
What’s your plan for 2021?
This achievement is an honorable acknowledgement from the public for all the hard work put into Ngoc Suong Restaurant & Bar. To me, it’s like a spark that fuels my enthusiasm and drive to pursue what I have faith in.
The ultimate goal that I want to achieve is to show the world that Vietnam’s cuisine has more to offer than just pho and banh mi.
What to expect from us in the coming days? Stay tuned for the next episode of Best Ever Food Review Show featuring Ngoc Suong Restaurant & Bar. On April 6, we'll be hosting Surf N' Turf with Stoker Woodfired Grill & Bar, followed by another event with Kiba Saigon on April 17. Next, we're gearing up for a partnership with Quince Saigon sometime in June.
This article is adapted by L A M.