The Vietnam Woods
Shop 1, York Place, 22 Johnston Road, Wan Chai
Tel: 2866 0013
Price: about HK$200 without drinks and the service charge.
Ambience: a modern-looking space with no stereotypical indications that it serves Vietnamese food. The doors are open to Johnston Road, so diners hear the roar of passing buses. That, combined with the high ceilings and lack of soft surfaces, means it can sometimes become quite noisy.
Pros: the waiters are helpful; the manager taking our order told us that one of our dishes had only two pieces and would be difficult to share between the three of us, so instead of making us double the order, he offered to let us increase it by half. The food is simply but attractively served.
Cons: although the deep-fried spring rolls (HK$42) were well cooked, they were oversized and without much flavour. The sauteed beef tenderloin cubes with garlic flakes (HK$98) were surprisingly dull, as if the other ingredients (which also included black pepper and onions) hadn't permeated into the meat. The sauteed morning glory with shrimp paste (HK$58) was marred because the vegetable was a little tough.
Recommended dishes: our favourite dish was the starter of deep-fried chicken wings with butter (HK$68 for four), which came out piping hot, with moist meat and crisp skin. Another starter, the steamed stuffed rice crepes (HK$38 for two) had tender but resilient wrappers stuffed with plenty of flavourful filling. Vietnamese grilled fish (HK$168), served whole then boned at the table by the manager, had soft flesh infused with the taste of lime slices and lemon grass that had been stuffed into the cavity before it was cooked. The sauce served on the side was citrusy and garlicky (a little too much garlic), so only a drop was needed to season the fish. Dessert of pandanus layer pudding cake (HK$40) - two large wedges that were sprinkled with flaked coconut and a small bowlful of coconut milk - was warm, soft and not too sticky.
What else? Crisp, slightly oily but delicious shrimp crackers are served gratis at the beginning of the meal.