For a restaurant brand, 64 years in business is a remarkable achievement. To get there, Ngoc Suong had to navigate the ups and downs of establishing a business in an emerging market and the challenges brought about by breakneck growth of the past decade.
Ngoc Suong is remembered as “a mature tree with deep roots” in the local F&B market. The tree has weathered many storms, but relying on tradition and brand recognition alone will not be enough to retain a competitive edge. For Quoc Vinh, future success lies in innovation.
Born into a family of restaurateurs, the fourth-generation chef-owner Le Quoc Vinh found his calling early on. At the age of 17 he moved to the US to study cooking, which allowed him to gain vital technical skills before enrolling into Le Cordon Bleu – an international chain of hospitality and culinary schools teaching French cuisine. Following his graduation, Quoc Vinh spent years honing his art in restaurants across Japan, the US, Spain and China.
Returning to Saigon after studying and working abroad, Quoc Vinh found himself at the helm of his family business. Combining the roles of CEO and head chef, his vision for Ngoc Suong Seafood & Bar is to build on the existing success by infusing the menu with modern flavors and by embracing innovation.
The revamped Ngoc Suong Seafood & Bar on Thai Van Lung street is a study in modernity and creativity. It is also a homage to all things seafood. As he gives us the grand tour, Quoc Vinh tells us about his quest to convey family heritage through personal touches.
Every family business has an origin story. What’s yours?
The year is 1955. My great-grandfather opens Ngọc Sương in the Cam Ranh Bay area – a simple place specializing in processing and serving delicious seafood dishes to the local people.
When my grandfather took over, Ngoc Suong’s dining experience improved dramatically. It was a gradual process that took place in the 80’s. You can say it was my grandfather who laid the foundation when he realized the restaurant’s potential as a F&B business that can be expanded under skilled management.
By 1990, my parents were running the restaurant. They are credited with establishing the Ngoc Suong brand in Saigon. Each new generation cherished Ngoc Suong as a family business deeply rooted in our shared values.
What is the culinary philosophy that all members of your family adhere to?
All ingredients must be of top-notch quality. That’s how we ensure the new dishes meet our exacting standards of high quality and taste.
For you personally, what does cooking mean?
For me, cooking is an experience full of warmth and love. Every story shared, every concern raised by a family member takes place at the table. Everyone’s perception of taste as well as their feelings are strongly influenced by the energy at the table. The taste of the food and the presentation are secondary, in my opinion; they merely serve to complement the atmosphere of the meal.
How have your years abroad shaped your personal cooking style?
In addition to forging my knowledge and professional skills, the places I lived, studied and worked at have helped me shape my own culinary style, which is to re-create memories through food (comfort food). For me, a good dish is not the one that was made with the most expensive ingredients, but the one that satisfies all customers and creates lifetime memories.
To be honest, when I was little, I didn’t like to eat seafood. Seafood was boring because those were the dishes that often appeared on the family table. It wasn’t until I left my home country and spent time interacting with diverse cuisines in large and small kitchens abroad that I gradually came to appreciate the role of seafood in Vietnamese cuisine.
Vietnam is an S-shaped strip of land adjacent to the sea, so our resources from the sea are always extremely abundant. Seafood is not only a familiar ingredient to the Vietnamese people, but it also represents Vietnam on the international arena.
The direction that my family chose for Ngoc Suong Seafood & Bar hasn’t changed. I am just continuing on that path. Although there is a difference in variety and processing methods, all dishes retain the original core. Only the original can make us nostalgic.
As a successor, how will you write your chapter of your family’s brand story?
From the very beginning Ngoc Suong has been focused on Vietnamese flavors and I will continue to preserve the brand’s tradition. I have also introduced some elements of Western cuisines and centered the entire dining experience on quality entertainment.
Ngoc Suong Seafood & Bar offers our patrons an integrated dining-drinking-entertainment experience that is popular overseas.
This is a high-end restaurant, but without the rules and restrictions that you come to expect from a place of a similar caliber. Instead of enforcing strict rules, we are focusing on exclusive entertainment. We want guests to enjoy themselves, to have fun.
The restaurant was designed around this concept, with a high-end sound system, strategic lighting and a layout that allows guests to make the most of their time with us. We want guests to come here for an all-encompassing experience, rather than just for a good meal.
Can you tell us a little about the upcoming events at Ngoc Suong Seafood & Bar?
Me and my team have prepared a series of events organized weekly and monthly. In addition to the music program, there will be other kinds of entertainment held periodically. Our resident DJs are here every day to set the tone for the night.
Me and my team are now planning to organize +84 Original – an exclusive entertainment event by Ngoc Suong Seafood & Bar, bringing together a range of Vietnamese artists from many different genres of music, promising to bring everyone’s feelings to “extreme”.