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Dim sum standby brings more to the table

Update: July, 06/2014 - 18:41

Ming's new summer a la carte menu advertises modern fusion cuisine, although the most worthwhile dishes at this luxurious eatery are those that follow more traditional recipes. Elisabeth Rosen reports.

Ming made its name on dim sum. As one of a handful of restaurants serving Cantonese-inspired bites, the elegant eatery attracted both well-to-do locals and international travellers. But as the city's dining scene becomes more international, steamed buns and dumplings aren't enough to make a restaurant stand out. This summer, Ming rolled out a new a la carte menu.

It's billed as modern fusion, and indeed, the kitchen makes a few tentative jabs at trendy fare (cold kale with wasabi, anyone?) But the best dishes are the classic ones, prepared with a steady hand and fresh ingredients.

Heavy on flavour: Chicken in red wine and garlic sauce (top) and Fuzhou-style fish maw soup.

There is little "modern" or "fusion" about the vast banquet hall-like space, which hews closely to the conventions of East Asian luxury dining. Stiff-backed chairs are cushioned in genteel tans and creams, calibrated to match the geometric carpets and ceiling lanterns; the lighting, aided by a broad glass window, is bright without being excessive. Dishes emerge in sedate succession, enormous platters meant to be admired before being carefully doled out with serving utensils. The most adventurous thing about the decor is the bowl of kimchi on each table.

This is not a criticism. Formulas exist because they work; there's a reason that people return time and again to the reassuring plenty of dim sum. The kitchen is headed by Malaysian chef Charles Chee Ken Fui (he goes, inexplicably, by Chef Kent), a veteran of kitchens in Hong Kong, Malaysia and Cambodia, and winner of several culinary competitions. Clearly he knows, as well, how to adapt to local audiences. A recent meal at Ming kicked off with small bowls of Fuzhou-style fish maw soup (VND300,000). In Malaysia the soup often incorporates spicy and sour flavours; here, where subtlety reigns, it's a gentle, creamy broth enriched with egg yolk and threads of fresh bean curd.

Ming

Address: Sofitel Plaza, 1 Thanh Nien Rd.

Tel.: 0438238888

Hours: 11am-2pm; 5:30-10pm

Price Range: VND300,000-600,000

Comment: Elegant Cantonese-inspired fare, both dim sum and a la carte.

But there is nothing understated about the main dishes. Like the dim sum, they are Chinese-influenced, heavier and richer than Vietnamese fare, with sauces so thick that rice becomes almost unnecessary. Grouper, a white fish that lacks much taste on its own, is sliced into delicate squares and braised in a flavourful liquid infused with garlic and soy (VND130,000/100g). Boneless chicken -- a luxurious rarity in Viet Nam -- gets a swig of red wine and a thorough dose of garlic (VND280,000). It could also do with some chili, but although the menu promises spice, the kitchen doesn't seem to have gotten the memo.

Don't miss the homemade tofu: one of the best dishes, and also the quietest. A thin layer of freshly made tofu, custard-like in its consistency, cushions rigid stripes of shrimp, broccoli and mushrooms (VND260,000). Delicate in flavour, it's an ideal way to segue from savory to sweet.

Desserts here are more restrained than western confections, with the exception, perhaps, of durian puffs and deep-fried sesame balls (VND100,000). You certainly won't get a sugar rush from the black herbal jelly (VND100,000). Served in a tall glass and sweetened with a runny trickle of honey, the traditional concoction has a soothingly medicinal flavour. It's less a dessert than a digestif. — VNS

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