Let’s cut to the chase: while few things ward off bone-shivering winter chills like a bowl of soothing, meaty pho
, Vietnam Station’s traditional take feels half-hearted. Sure, the beef noodle soup (58RMB) has mounds of perfectly chewy rice noodles and strips of juicy pink beef. But dishing it out without garnish, Hanoi-style, places emphasis on the broth – which, unfortunately, is a lukewarm watery mess. The plate of limes meant to pierce the savoury stock is rendered useless.
Thankfully, the rest of the experience is, for the most part,very positive. Not that you could necessarily tell from a first glance: being based in a shopping mall– even one as huge and spectacular as the extravagant Parkview Green– gives almost every restaurant a cut-rate, cafeteria feel. Not even the pricey original prints by Japanese contemporary artist Takeshi Murakami on the walls could shake this vibe for us.
Dishes arrive simultaneously, and quicker than you can say Ho Chi Minh City. Prioritise carefully– jumping on the fried spring rolls (48RMB) while they’re hot rewards with crispy, chewy skin enveloping a pork and fungus core. Twirl them in a house-made fish sauce and chilli concoction and then a dress them in jacket of lettuce leaf and cucumber for a layered snap.
Traditional bites like a central Vietnamese canapé of shrimp paste melded around a stick of sugarcane (68RMB) are done right. Firm, slightly sweet and briny shrimp, smeared with a syrupy dip, are vibrant without the need for flour or cheap fillers to pad out the paste. The seafood mallets finish with a leisurely gnaw on the sugar cane skewer – try not to drool while sucking out the juice.The chicken salad (82RMB) could use more bird, but makes up for it with a heaping helping of cool, crisp translucent jellyfish, lightly dressed with sesame oil.
But most come for the soup, and understandably so, as the formidable array of Vietnamese noodle soups are a staple of the cultural cookbook. There’s a whole page of them on the menu. Bowls of Hue-style noodles (58RMB) lure slurpers in out of the cold with an aromatic broth of lemongrass and chilli, and a fair level of fire. The snare is baited with pork knuckle and a smooth pork paste that had to be brought up all the way from Guangzhou as the necessary quality couldn’t be found here. The blend’s not flawless – weak points mainly lie in tasteless shreds of beef – but on the whole it’s good enough. Close with a portion of beef brisket curry (96RMB), a minefield of tender beef chunks and potato in a sauce brimming with ginger and spices. Sure, Vietnam Station’s got none of the glitz or charm of its distinguished mall neighbours to encourage going out of the way, but its strong grasp of flavours strives to close that gap. It’s hard to get better casual Vietnamese without shelling out for a plane ticket.