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Ngon 13 months later

Banh Xeo at Ngon

Banh Xeo at Ngon

It’s been over 13 months since the Ngon fiasco that left me (and others) with a such bad taste in my mouth that I have never gone back. I still think of it as my worst dining experience in Cambodia.

However, it is one of the most read posts on our blog and we still get comments regarding the service. Many people have commented to me that I should give Ngon another chance (one actually told me to lower my expectations as “this is Cambodia”).

So with much trepidation, I went to Ngon.

In Vietnam.

And what I got was a mixed bag.

We went off to the new location which is located An Phu in District 2 which has become a haven for expatriates and well to do Vietnamese. You can definitely see the development in the clean streets and the very suburban feel to several of the compounds located in the area.

Not a bad place to have a meal

Not a bad place to have a meal

The new Ngon is one of four restaurants in the Thao Dien Village which is located on a very picturesque riverbank located on the northern eastern part of the peninsula. We went for lunch and were lucky to grab a great spot right next to the river. The menu is a bit more expensive than the one in District 1 but with the mainly seafood options and the picturesque location, I had to give them a bit of leeway in terms of pricing.

We decided to order in a non-Nyam fashion and only order 3 dishes. We got a papaya salad with beef, Banh Xeo with seafood (no shrimps please) and deep fried squid. The first dish to arrive was the papaya salad.

Fresh papaya salad with beef

Fresh papaya salad with beef

Served in a hollowed out papaya, the flavors of the salad were fresh and light and a perfect start to the meal. There was an ample amount of sliced rare beef to give the dish a bit of heft and it was topped with peanuts and deep fried shallots gave the salad a nice crunchy texture. Up next was the fried calamari.

Muc Chien Don at Ngon

Muc Chien Gion at Ngon

They looked great when they were dropped off but then the cheap side of my brain kicked in and went “Holy crap, this dish was 180,000 dong??? Dude, that’s like a dollar a ring!

Usually I dress any deep fried calamari with a dose of lime/lemon and dip them in the accompanied sauce. But I decided that these had better be the best deep fried calamari on Earth for that asking price and popped one in my mouth ungarnished and unsauced.

50 cents in my belly and 50 cents on my chopsticks

50 cents in my belly and 50 cents on my chopsticks

It was good but it wasn’t mind-blowingly great. I asked for some lime and tried it again garnished and sauced. Heaps better but still not worth the price. In the end, I waited for special moments like when a boat was passing by to have another ring so I could appreciate the price of the dish a bit more.

The last dish to arrive was the banh xeo which was pretty tasty and very filling.

Banh Xeo at Ngon

Banh Xeo at Ngon

One ingredient that I have not ever seen in Banh Xeo was the addition of mushrooms which gave the dish an earthy taste which cut the taste of the large amounts of onions in the dish.

Some shipping goes by

Some shipping goes by

The meal came to just under $40 USD and even though the location is great and I left full, I couldn’t stop thinking about that damn calamari.

Vinh

Ngon
Thao Dien Village
195 Nguyen Van Huong St.,
Thao Dien Ward, Disctrict 2, HCMC

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Ngon Restaurant

Ngon is a restaurant that I have been obsessing over for the past month or so. I have been to both locations in Vietnam and am wholly impressed with them both. Which led me to organize a party of 12 anonymous reviewers on opening night to sample as much of the menu as possible. This was probably my first mistake to review a brand new restaurant on opening night. But lets get to that later.

The atmosphere of Ngon is fantastic. The setting is reminiscent of the imperial Vietnam of old with a hutong inspired entrance which leads to a open floor plan dotted with food stations on the sides of the building.The menu is 70% Vietnamese and 30% Khmer with very reasonable prices (most items at 9,000 Riel). After getting everyone in and with a beer in hand, we ordered 10 dishes to share.

Unfortunately, Ngon hasn’t worked out the kinks of running such a large operation and it took a half hour for us to get our first dish. After several inquiries and direct intervention by the GM, we managed to get three other dishes in a timely manner. We were also told that 6 of the ordered items were out and we had to reorder another dish (Ga Chien or fried chicken wings) to get some more food in our stomachs.

In the end, we received the Banh Xeo, Goi Bo Tai Chanh, Bo Nhung Dam, Banh Hoi Thit and Ga Chien. All the dishes were great with the Banh Hoi Thit being my favorite. The fat on the pork belly had a great crust which gave a crunchy texture to a normally chewy piece of meat. The Bo Nhung Dam had ample amounts of onion which once stewed a few minutes in the vinegar broth were heavenly.

During the meal, I  walked by the order station which is located very close to the toilets. I stood by and watched over half the waiters in the restaurant relaying orders to two employees at computer terminals. As a former waiter, I could see this was disastrous. Total mayhem was erupting right before my eyes and I felt a little pity for the waiters. I hope that the management work this situation out, if for the sanity of the wait staff.  In all honesty, this review could have waited a month to give Ngon a chance to work out the kinks so there will be another follow up in the future.

— VinhThe food we did receive was overall pretty great but it was hard to enjoy the experience when it was clear that the management of the restaurant was not yet in order.  From taking over an hour to get our first drink to the blank stares of the staff when we ordered, they were clearly overwhelmed with this new restaurant.  Vinh even broke out his Vietnamese language skills a few times which helped discussing our orders with the management but not so much with the Khmer staff that was actually bringing the food.

Banh Xeo

But it was opening night.  The idea of the restaurant is great, the building, the furniture and fixtures are absolutely beautiful and the food was pretty solid.  Once they work out the kinks in the service, this place will be really great.  The banh xeo was really tasty and crispy and the bo nhung dam was amazing.  The only other time I’ve had bun nhung dam was my first night in Saigon at a street stall with a group of friends so I have very fond memories associated with this dish.  It will probably be a while until I head back and it will probably be with a slightly smaller group but I’m really hoping they get this place sorted.  — Bryse

Bo Nhung Dam

After tallying the votes of the group, the Goi Bo Tai Chanh was the favorite of the crew, garnishing a 4.6 out of a possible 5 nyamies.
Banh Hoi Thit – 3.75 Nyamies
Banh Xeo – 3..5 Nyamies
Ga Chien – 3.6 Nyamies
Bo Nhung Dam – 3.55 Nyamies

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Hells Ya!

Coming soon to Phnom Penh is Ngon Restaurant

Coming soon to Phnom Penh is Ngon Restaurant

If you’ve been to Ho Chi Minh City and have eaten at the original, you will understand my utter joy in seeing this. I had a peek inside and it looks like the design is very similar to the old Quan An Ngon before it moved last year.

If you haven’t eaten at the original, you should.  Check out reviews from the New York Times and Frommers here.

Ngon Restaurant
Nº. 25, Sihanouk (St. 274)
12301 Phnom Penh

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