Korean food trend in Singapore, meet your replacement.
I always get a little apprehensive when it comes to having Southeast Asian cuisine in Singapore, simply because it’s so darn difficult to find. I mean, look at Thai cuisine: it’s so well-loved by so many but in one is still hard pressed finding a place that delivers a true blue experience. So, when Darren told me about this “new Vietnamese place”, I was skeptical. To convince me, he justified it by telling me that it was a concept by the Les Amis Group – I gradually “lukewarmed” to the idea, not enthusiastically, but only just.
The Les Amis Group is gold in Singapore. The eponymous institution from which the group takes its name from, is, probably the world’s best restaurant without a Michelin star rating – frequently topping world’s best lists. The umbrella corporation has since expanded with a variety of concepts, covering everything from French to Vietnamese complete with its own patisserie. Its latest concept, Nam Nam Noodle Bar, is a fast-food offshoot of its restaurant, Annam. The new outlet at the ever cosmopolitan basement of Raffles City, carves its space from Les Amis’ patisserie, Canele. The menu is simple enough – divided into three categories: bahn mi, French style Vietnamese sandwiches; beef pho soup, go for wagyu, regular beef slices, tripes or minced beef balls; and pho in other indigenous styles. It’s a small setup and I didn’t mind it that much, except that to place your order, you’ve to fill up a chit and then head down to the cashier and hopefully, remember to collect your utensils or you’ll risk another obstacle course – which means at any point of time, diners are moving up and down, placing orders, retrieving utensils… It’s like a bull in a china shop, really.
The first course, as is customary, is the ubiquitous Vietnamese spring rolls, naturally. A celebration of shrimp, rice, noodles, long beans and a single mint leaf wrapped in a paper-thin rice roll and served with a dipping side of southern style savory peanut sauce, it did its job of setting the Indochinese tone of the meal. I’ll have to admit that it was rather average. The exterior wrap was a tad thicker than I’d like to have had it, and the array of mint, basil and whole other raw greens – abundant in Vietnamese cuisine, was almost an afterthought here.
The pho was even more disappointing. The full combination complete with minced beef balls, tripe, sliced meat and all was overcooked and therefore desperately chewy. Like Thai street food, there were bottles of various seasoning on the table including chili fish sauce, Vietnamese chili sauce amongst others; which made for a really sumptuous, hearty broth.
Perhaps the best thing by a long shot, was the bahn mi. When Darren and I were there, we had noticed that most diners eschewed it for the noodles instead. I can tell you, the sandwiches are probably the most underrated range of items there. Nam Nam’s affiliation to Les Amis ensures some of the most value-for-money baguette you’ll ever pay for. I took a bite, and immediately, I was transported back to Hanoi…