Eastern Promises 8: A Phodown in Hong Kong (!)
Nha Trang at 3 Tai Yue Avenue, Taikoo Shing; call (852) 907-8033
Broth: 6.5 | Beef: 9 | Noodle: 8 | Condiment: 2 | Service/atmosphere: 8 | Overall: 6.7
Write-up from Jason:
It had to happen sooner or later. Truly the most portable concept of its time, The Phodown has gone from Vancouver, to Santa Barbara, to Toronto, and now Hong Kong.
Nha Trang is a popular and well-respected Vietnamese chain here in Hong Kong. Ever since I arrived about a month ago I’ve been hearing about it and anticipating what its pho would be like. My expectation was of something a bit more refined than the standard pho, but perhaps without the potency of a mom-and-pop brew (i.e., not as rich and deep, but with fresh condiments and al dente noodles).
I was mostly right.
I went to the location near the Taikoo Centre near my current abode in Quarry Baby during the tea set hours (many restaurants offer discounted prices from around 2-5pm on weekdays). Nha boasts a great deal – an entree plus app. or drinks for about $45 (or about $8-9 CAD). For some reason I got a drink – iced tea with lime – despite that fact that the appetizers looked interesting. I’ve been making lots of bad decisions lately.
Regardless, I was here for the pho. And man, was it fucking weird. First I should say that I’m not sure this is pho. The flavor of the broth tasted nothing like the pho broth I’m familiar with, lacking any discernible clove, cinnamon or anise. Instead the predominant flavor was mirepoix, evoking strong memories of a beef stew our neighbor Edna used to make us as kids. The beef flavor was extremely pronounced as well, tasting almost hearty. It was a delicious broth. But was it pho?
Condiments were a complete bust, consisting only of a lime slice and some thai bird peppers. A guy next to me asked for some fish sauce, which he pushed over to me when he saw my displeasure with the condiment situation. I considered asking for sriacha and hoisin, but I didn’t see any at other tables or at the server’s stations, so I thought the inevitable confusion would be fruitless. Other than the lime and peppers, the only other condiment was a sprig of Thai basil on top of the pho, which really takes all the customization out of the picture.
Other than the above oddities, everything else was standard to very good. The beef was some of the best I’ve had, fresh and tasting of pure beef. It’s a strange thing to say, but I’ve had phos where the beef tasted dried out and unbeeflike. As expected, the noodles were well executed.
The service was deadly efficient, like most Hong Kong joints, but impersonal.
I know what you postmodern jerks thinking – I’m importing a foreign pho standard and trying to impose it on the local pho here. But I just don’t think that’s true. I’ve seen photos of pho in Vietnam that feature huge plates of fresh herbs. I think Nha is simply missing the boat here, favoring style over substance when it comes to condiments. In terms of the broth, it’s harder to say. They are certainly doing something different and interesting. But if the pho flavor profile isn’t there, it’s hard to do a phodown.