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By Heather• 7 Apr 2015 • 4 Comments
Annam is the middle area of Vietnam, once a French protectorate. Perhaps also a clever amalgam of Arbitrageur’n’Nam, given the merging of these businesses at the newly renovated Featherston Street site (Nam D kiosks continue at the Willis Village and in Cable Car Lane).
A bamboo and dragon entry to a colourful Indochine interior immediately transports you, which is exactly what Nikki and Chris are aiming for. They also aim to bring you authentic Vietnamese food – subtle flavours, balance in all dishes (sweet, sour, salty, light tang, textured), with vegetables and salads often more of a feature than meat - in a relaxed environment with a more casual service style to match. So don’t expect spicy or dense food here.
The menu is split into street food (think skewers and wings), rice paper rolls, soups, curries, claypots, wok-tossed, wet dishes and desserts, with nothing over $25. And cocktails created with fresh Asian flavours in mind, including condensed milk Vietnamese coffee.
The wine list still shouts Arbitrageur, with a French influence and most available by the glass, half bottle (long lunch) or bottle (no going back now). The non-alcoholics include coconut water and both avocado and soursop condensed milk smoothies, soursop apparently being like custard apple. So this is definitely a place to gleefully indulge your inner child with all that wonderful condensed milkiness!
On my first visit we shared the Chả giò crispy spring rolls, which were crispy and porky, and then the Cá hồi kho tộ caramelized braised salmon with pork belly and chilies, and the Bún Bò Huế traditional spicy beef and pork hock noodle soup. Since Huế was the notional capital of Annam back in the day, it seemed appropriate.
The Bún Bò Huế gave me a moment when I discovered luncheon slices (what?) beneath the beef, but my travel memories finally surfaced to remind me that Vietnamese sausage does in fact look like our luncheon. Close call. The broth was pleasantly sweet, salty, umami and gently tangy, and there was indeed some hock below.
The caramelized salmon with pork belly is one of the few dishes not strictly as you’d find in Vietnam, where they usually use white fish. However Nikki couldn’t go past showcasing our beautiful NZ salmon as part of using local and fresh, and the dish delivered on all counts. It should definitely go on your to-do list, but keep a miners light on for the chilies in the depths (unless you’re a chili fiend).
As the sizes are sensible we were able to fit desserts, and enjoyed both the Chè chuối chưng banana sago pudding, which was sweet with a pleasing crunchy peanut topping, and the Bánh khoai mì baked cassava cake with sweetened coconut cream, which had textures and tastes not unlike almond cake.
At a subsequent lunch I had the Gội ngộ Sen Hải Sản lotus salad (totally thinking of you guys by going twice), which again showcased the typical flavour subtleties and balance, and left me with a pleasant sense of well-being for the rest of the afternoon.
The same menu applies Monday to Saturday, day and night, and with such tasty good value I think Annam will do well.
Keen to hear what you think about the increase of Vietnamese food in our fair city.
Georgia meets maker and baker Brigid of Milk Crate cafe.