I’m not going to lie, I had been having the most intense cravings for Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese food throughout our entire trip through Europe. Having Spanish tapas and duck cassoulet is all well and good, but sometimes you just crave what you always eat at home.
We’re lucky enough in Australia that we have access to top-range food from all different parts of Asia. With the exception of one decent meal at Udon Kobo Ishin in Berlin, we’d found it difficult to locate genuine Asian food like we would eat at home.
By the time we got to Moscow, my cravings had become too intense and I needed a hit of ramen, dumplings or pho! Luckily we were staying at the Novotel Moscow City located right next to a large shopping mall with a number of restaurants…Viet Cafe was one of them. We inspected the menu before entering and decided that it looked genuine enough – the restaurant owners hadn’t mixed in food from other regions (sushi, donburi, dumplings, bibimbap…) into the all-Vietnamese menu, which was a good sign!
I eat a lot of tofu at home – fried, silken, puffs, bean curd, any which way, and hadn’t been able to find it in supermarkets across Europe throughout our stay. No doubt there are specialist supermarkets that carry it, but I hadn’t been lucky enough to come across one. I had to order the Dau Phu Sot to get my fill of tofu, though I was a little bit doubtful of the “cooked in tomato sauce” addendum…that’s not how I normally cook tofu! Still it was surprisingly tasty, especially with the addition of fresh coriander which I’d also been missing. It’s not a herb that you can readily find across Europe!
Also craving soft steamed buns, we ordered the Banh Bao with a pork and prawn filling. While I thought the filling lacked a certain something (Texture using more wood ear mushrooms? Flavour with more spiced pork?), the soft squishy steamed bun was everything that I’d been hoping for and more.
The drinks we ordered didn’t get delivered to the table until halfway through the meal which I found interesting – surely getting a bottle of Mirinda and making a Vietnamese lemonade shouldn’t take that long? I think it highlights the slightly erratic service that we experienced all night, with the waitresses taking just a little bit too long to acknowledge you as you walked in, to seat you, to bring you a menu, to take your order…everything was just slightly off. It certainly doesn’t match the brisk efficiency you’ll find in Vietnamese restaurants in Australia, but I wonder whether it’s just the Russian way.
We ordered their special ‘Vietnamese Dinner’ set which was comprised of a bowl of Pho Bo and some Nem Ga (next photo). I was expecting the Aussie-standard bowl of pho, and was very surprised when this tiny child-sized bowl was delivered to our table. I’d have to eat two of these bowls to consider it a full meal! Still, I liked the healthy serving of fresh herbs on the bowl, and the noodles were cooked well. Unfortunately the beef wasn’t sliced as thinly as it really should be, and the broth was tasty but lacked a depth of flavour. It’s not an award-winning bowl of pho, but I expect that it’s about as good as it gets in Russia!
Our last dish was the Nem Ga which came with the Vietnamese Dinner. These were surprisingly the highlight of the whole meal, with a crisp crunchy skin, and extremely flavourful spiced chicken and vegetable filling. Served with a typical Nuoc Cham dipping sauce (heavenly, I put some on the rice because I’d missed it so much!), these ‘spring rolls’ were as good as any I’d had in Australia – and even as good as those I’d had in Vietnam two years ago!
The Vietnamese fare at Viet Cafe is about as good as it gets in Russia – if you’ve been on the road for a few months as we had, it’s a great place to stop in for a feed to satiate your cravings. The prices are reasonable by Australian standards, if a bit high by Russian standards especially considering the smaller serving size of all dishes. Worth a visit if you’re craving Vietnamese food!
Viet Cafe is located in Afimall at 2 Presnenskaya emb. in Moscow.