An Nam

For the longest time, finding somewhere good to have Vietnamese food in Hong Kong seemed extraordinarily difficult. Although by good I certainly do not just mean “upscale”,  it does appear that there have hardly been any attempts at high-end Vietnamese cuisine in Hong Kong. I mean, in the past, whenever I craved for a bowl of beef pho, I would only think of going to one of the few modest, super-cramped Vietnamese restaurants in the Tai Hang neighbourhood. At times of social gatherings that required more space, I’d generally be stuck with one of the inauthentic, Chinesified renditions of Viet cuisine scattered around the island.

This all changed when my good friend Eva told me about the new(ish) Vietnamese restaurant at Lee Gardens, An Nam. 20131212-164103.jpg

Belonging to the same group as the Japanese restaurant Gonpachi next door, an extention of the famous Tokyo restaurant that I always saw as an overpriced tourist trap, I had initial doubts about the authenticity of the food at An Nam. But! After my first meal there, I’m happy to say that I was probably just a little too cynical.

The first dish I tried was the big head prawns in fragrant sauce. The prawns were fleshy, firm with a bouncy bite, soaked in a flavorful shrimp roe sauce to form a succulent, briny dose of omega-3 😀

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Next up was one of my favourite vietnamese dishes – grilled pork “bun noodles” that always leaves me feeling extra healthy without taking away from the pleasure of taste. This reminded me of the grilled pork noodles from Banh Mi Bay, a cute Vietnamese “cheap eats” diner that I used to frequent in Bloomsbury, London.

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I also tried the rare beef pho and liked it very much compared to most places I’ve been to in Hong Kong. With tender beef slices and a savoury stock, I’ve been back a few times for this bowl of pho. One thing though – the temperature of the broth (upon being served) fluctuates depending on the time of the day/how busy they are, so a polite reminder for them to serve it hot would be a good idea when you order! I personally cannot stand lukewarm soup noodles !

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The rice rolls, which were essentially finely minced pork wrapped in a thin slippery skin with fresh herbs was also satisfying.

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The shrimp paste on bamboo sticks however, were not exactly worth raving about. They were not horrible but definitely on the dry side. I think I would probably be able to find better versions in other Vietnamese restaurants, even in one of the casual diners in Tai Hang.

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The pork and shrimp rice paper rolls (goi cuon) on the other hand were well-made; at many other places I often found poorly proportioned versions of these with either too much vegetable or noodles inside. Here, as you can see, the rolls have been done in a good size and are filled with well-balanced amounts of each ingredient. Goi Cuon devotees may, however, find the skin a little too chewy and rubbery.20131212-105044.jpg

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The deep-fried frog’s legs and deep-fried shoft shell crabs literally tasted the same. Look at the next two photos… at first glance they pretty much look the same too. Anyway… both were enjoyable since for me, all things deep-fried that are not too oily, reasonably crispy and not without flavour are easily good enough to make delicious snacks to go with any kind of drink :p 20131212-105150.jpg

Though on second thought the soft shell crabs pictured below could have been a little crunchier 😛

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THE deep-fried dish I really like at An Nam however, is the spring rolls. The waitress says they are all filled with fresh shrimps and indeed, as far as I remember, these spring rolls are one of the best Vietnamese spring rolls I’ve ever had in Hong Kong. A neatly stacked bowl of baby lettuce is also served on the side for wrapping around the spring rolls, adding a lovely layer of fresh crispiness.

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The stir-fried beef noodles were also wonderful – piping hot and bursting with flavour.

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In general, I still foresee myself coming back to An Nam again and again but what I will never order again are the following things :

These baked cheesy clams which were seriously over-baked and therefore dry.

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The coconut jelly that is almost tasteless.

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The mediocre chocolate fondant and sweet potato dessert (pictured below – it’s that milky looking bowl of whatever at the back). I can assure you that sweet things are not An Nam’s forte. I would suggest leaving after your meal to go for dessert elsewhere 😛

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An Nam

Address:  4/F, Lee Gardens One, 33 Hysan Ave., Causeway Bay
銅鑼灣希慎道33號利園一期4樓

Phone Number:  (852) 2787 3922

Website: http://www.leegardens.com.hk/dining/LG/2435/An-Nam

Edit:just wanted to include photos of 2 additional dishes I tried later! 😛 vietnamese grilled pork & meatball bun noodles and fried flat noodles.
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Ottolenghi – Demonstrating Organic + Orgasmic

I’ve always been an avid meat-eater, but a fair portion of vegetables is pretty much compulsory for the sake of keeping my palate balanced. At times, after having too many meat-heavy meals in a row I would feel the need for a 100% vegetarian day. I’ve been eating a lot of korean BBQ, meaty Italian dishes and steaks lately so on this sunny November day in London, I decided to visit Yotam Ottolenghi’s Islington deli  to get my #fitspo food fix.  (yeah and so that I can post pictures on instagram with tags like #eatclean #instahealth #fitstagram)

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Ottolenghi, also known as “the man who sexed up vegetables” (only found this in wikipedia, hah), is an Israeli chef specializing in middle eastern cuisine that draws influence from around the world. My good friend Eiko told me about his fresh and flavourful salads a while back, so I had to seize the opportunity to try them out whilst in London.

Damn, it was a sunday afternoon but I did not expect the line to be this long. I stood there waiting for over half an hour before I got seated.
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Whilst waiting in line I noticed that despite being famed for veggie dishes, the cakes and pastries looked highly appetizing as well. Queueing up next to the heavenly spread of goodies pictured below (imagine the beautiful smell as well) while being hungry for lunch was both mentally and physically tormenting. The queuers infront of me were unable to withstand the torture and called for some pastries from the take-out counter whilst waiting to be seated. I, however, knew that if I were to do that I would not be able to stop myself from eating too much before sitting down so I refrained from doing so.
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Ahhhhh…. these cupcakes!!!
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For lunchtime, everything on the menu is already laid out at the front of the deli. Pumped up by the sight of all the colourful salads, I had already planned in my head to get a portion of everything.
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Just for reference, here is the menu of the day 😀
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And finally I got seated inside.

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I ended up getting a portion of every single salad for my table of 3, sharing also a platter of Ottolenghi breads and 2 main courses. I did not care much about the main courses as I really only came for the salads, and yum! Every salad was prepared with noticeably fresh vegetables, bursting with bold, exotic flavours. The only dish that could have been better turned out to be the char-grilled brocolli  with chilli and garlic,  which was in fact the first thing I picked from the menu because I’ve always been a fan. The brocolli  here was slightly too hard and dry for what I expected; perhaps chargrilling for less time would have been better? (btw I subsequently had a wonderful brocolli salad at Bea’s of Bloomsbury).
IMG_3234One of my favourites turned out to be the roasted aubergine with black garlic yoghurt, fried chili, caremelised hazelnuts and herbs. The unique combination of flavours complimented very well with the perfectly roasted aubergines, which were neither too chewy nor mushy.
IMG_3236 The roasted sweet potato with ginger yoghurt, lemon, pickled red onion, black sesame seeds and parsley were also delicious, despite looking like a giant mess. This was probably the most addictive of the salads.IMG_3237 The potatoes with Jerusalem artichoke, ras el hanout, almonds, sultanas, chilli and preserved lemon was less interesting in terms of flavouring. Simple and good, nonetheless.IMG_3238 And here’s the mixed peppers and brown bulgar tabbouleh with mixed nuts, red onion and pomegranate seeds. IMG_3239And of course, hummus! Ottolenghi’s special butterbean hummus with roasted mushrooms cumin, cinnamon, chilli & parsley

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The two main courses we went for were the filo parcels with burnt aubergine, feta, parsley, walnuts and sweet basil yoghurt and the free range chicken with cloves, cardamom, garlic, preserved lemons and turmeric. I had fairly low expectations for these so was quite happy to find that the chicken was not as dry as it looked and that the filo pastry was not oily at all. IMG_3245      IMG_3249

The Ottolenghi bread platters are prepared at a tiny corner inside the restaurant – each plate consisting of freshly baked & cut sourdough, cornbread, Italian white and focaccia.

IMG_3257 All served with some extra virgin olive oil of course.IMG_3258The dishes were actually presented in a style reminiscent of what I used to get at the college canteen – large spoonfuls of each salad/main course piled onto plates, like this 
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this,IMG_3259and this. IMG_3261Anyway, I left Ottolenghi feeling like a satisfied cow that just devoured a nice, organic, healthy meal. I’ll probably come try dinner next time (which I believe is served much more formally).

Obviously, upon stepping out the door I had to grab a few of these treats to make myself stay fat ‘cos you know, I love being fat. IMG_3269 Well not really … I’m on a diet to be honest but who can resist stuff like this!! IMG_3270

Ottolenghi Islington

287 Upper Street

London N1 2TZ

Tel: 020 7288 1454

Website :  http://www.ottolenghi.co.uk