PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – Having been to the Ngon restaurant in Ho Chi Minh walking into the sister establishment in Phnom Penh was a bit of a deja vu. The third triplet lives in Hanoi and each is exactly the same layout. Yo, if the formula works, why change it?
The Ngon – which means delicious in Vietnamese and opened in January 15, 2011 – is massive with greenery and heavy wooden furniture.
Seating choices include sitting outside with the roar of Sihanouk playing in the background, perching inside in a variety of locations or eating in small private dining rooms.
The place has a classy feel about it, but the dishes are – relatively speaking – inexpensive when quality and taste are factored in. When it comes to ordering, although the restaurant offers both Vietnamese and Khmer cuisine, go with the former as it is the specialty of the house.
Start with the flat rice dumplings stuffed with minced port and mushrooms (1,200/$3) or the chicken noodle soup (12,500/$3.12) or the vermicelli and fried spring rolls (12,500/$3.12).
Billy Otter – my dining companion and photographer – considers himself a spring roll connoisseur. He figures the ones at the Ngon are about as good as they get in South East Asia.
For seafood mains there is crispy fried rice with dried shrimp (22,000/$5.5) or the spine foot fish in banana leaves (45,000/$11.25). Crab – with a choice of steamed or grilled – is 60,000/$15 and sweet & sour soup with mud-fish come in at 18,500/$4.6.
Those needing a Khmer hit can opt for the bok gin sour fish with egg (16,000/$4).
To wash it down, go for an avocado shake (9,500/$2.3), fresh watermelon juice (7,500/$1.9) or fizzy drinks (5,500/$1.4).
Those wanting something a touch stronger can order beer that comes so cold it already has the ice forming in the bottle. Cocktails range from 7,000/ $1.75 to 9000/$2.25.
The wine list ranges from 90,000/$22.50 to 124,000/$31. And for a special occasion –the fact that it is Friday will do nicely – indulge in Taittinger Brut Champagne at 300,000/$75.
According to Sao Virak – the sales and marketing manager – the majority of the customers are locals and foreigners, including Vietnamese, Asians and Europeans.
To keep the operation running smoothly – and remember that the place is huge – there is a staff of about 110 to 115, with 60 doing the evening shift.
When Sao Virak was asked what he would recommend from the vast menu, he hesitated momentarily. Then he suggested fried spring roll (12,000/$3), Vietnamese pancake (12,000/$3) and noodle soup (12,000/$3). Another favorite, he added, is the seafood sweet and sour soup (40,000/$10).
The Ngon restaurant is the sort of place you can go for lunch on your own. A better option, however, is to go with a group of friends, order up big and share a number of taste treats.
60 Preah Sihanouk