The smell of star anise is rather intoxicating. It is a smell you either love or hate. Used widely in Vietnamese cooking, the sweet-yet-strong taste of the spice often gives a dish its uniqueness. And there’s something so unique about Vietnamese pho. A simple but complex flavour profile of noodles, broth, meat and fresh herbs. The humble pho, best had on the streets of Vietnam, can be found across the world today. I took a deep breath, inhaled the smell of the warm bowl of pho ga (chicken) in front of me and dug in. The noodles were slurpy, the broth warm and spicy, the fresh herbs and garlic just elevating the taste. It was perfect. Each bite took me back to the crowded streets of Hanoi while in reality I slurped my food with quiet contention at Viet:Nom, Cyber Hub, Gurugram’s newest restaurant.
Chef Vaibhav Bhargava’s intense research on Vietnam’s cuisine has definitely paid off. He spent three months in Vietnam this year—learning, tasting, researching. From Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh, Chef Bhargava saw and deciphered the textures and ingredients, imbibed the culture and brought back with him the true flavours that he’s serving up customers at Viet:Nom. Is serving authenticity a success then? “People who have travelled to Vietnam are really liking the food. The overall enthusiasm has been great,” he tells us. But, of course, there have been misses.
It is hard to imagine Vietna-mese cuisine without the bánh mì. The baguette sandwich that has its history intertwined with local and French flavours, is not on the menu yet. Neither is Hanoi’s favourite bun cha, of noodles and grilled pork, that is served with a heap of herbs. We are told both will be making an entrance sometime.
Digging into the deliciously fresh summer rolls with salmon and avo, with an in-house peanut butter dip, the conversation turns to Vietnam and Anthony Bourdain. We agreed that the best baguette sandwich at Hoi An comes from the tiny shop Bourdain made popular years ago on his travels. “The bread from the bakery next door makes all the difference,” Chef tells us as he puts more flavoursome dishes on the table—a delicious and tangy cold seafood salad, and dumplings aplenty: tapioca flour ones with ground mung bean, vibrant purple-coloured ones with prawns and shiso, and succulent chicken ones with a dash of chilli oil.
We are not fans of tofu. As staunch non-vegetarians, we don't really attempt tofu dishes unless there are no options. The ones at Viet:Nom, however, we would eat over and over again. The coating is crisp but a bite into a tofu piece is soft and juicy. The crispy fish served with prawn crackers and raw mango was equally delicious. But we talk faster than we eat, so by the time we got to the fish on the cracker, the crispness was gone, replaced by a soggy texture. But the flavours remained on point. Digging into fried prawns served on sugarcane skewers (chao tôm), their sweetness amplified thanks to the natural sweetener, this is a beloved dish found across Vietnam. Its delicate flavours are indeed a mouthful.
I think by then it was just greed pushing us on to try more items, with a refreshing gin and jamun cocktail on the side. As the last bite of the sago pearls and fresh mangoes were gulped down, and with the last swig of our drink taken, we were ready to come back to reality from a Vietnamese evening. It isn't always taste that takes you down memory lane, to the bustling streets of Hanoi, but from Viet:Nom you leave nostalgic, longing to go back to the wonderful Southeast Asian country, just some hours away.
White rose dumpling
Sweet, sour, spicy—the ground mung beans inside tapioca flour dumplings are a must try. These are what I would go back for.
Chargrilled pork ribs
The rib-tamarind-five-spice-sesame combination is a winner. Don’t be afraid to use your hands to maximise the experience.
Pearl jewels with mango
Despite not being a dessert fan, this sago and condensed milk sweet treat with mangoes definitely left a mark.
Where: Viet:Nom; DLF Cyber Hub, Ground floor, Gurugram
Contact: +91-8826376717; INR 3,000 for two