2-4 Kau U Fong
Grub: Authentic Vietnamese noodles
Vibe: This eatery is based on the The Lunchlady, a celebrated food stall in Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City run by Nguyem Thi Thanh, which only opens at lunchtime and only features one unique noodle dish per day. Co Thanh – which means “Madame Thanh” in honour of its inspiration – veers away from mainstream Vietnamese menus (there is no pho or banh mi) and provides a food experience like no other.
Owner Brian Woo pulled out all the stops to recreate the street-side food stalls of HCMC’s District 1, in Sheung Wan. From the colourful stools and the makeshift wooden door, to the authentic drinks stand; the restaurant’s rustic interior reflects Woo’s mission to give customers as genuine a Vietnamese street food experience as possible.
Who to take: The cosy, casual set-up makes it perfect for just about any occasion. If you’re with family or a group of friends, be sure to get a table. If you’re hoping for a chat with the restaurant’s uber-passionate chefs, grab a seat at the kitchen counter. Noodles are served in individual portions, so you can also happily go alone.
What’s hot: When I interned in Vietnam, I visiting Nguyem’s stall on a humid Saigon day and enjoyed one of the most delightful and refreshing bowls of noodles that I had ever slurped. It was a high bar for the Co Thanh team to aspire to.
But Hongkonger Woo and his team spent three years apprenticing under Nguyem in Ho Chi Minh City before setting up shop here. The team’s mastery of her dishes is evident immediately upon arrival, with the blend of spices and flavours tingling your nose from the moment you walk in and evoking a Saigon street.
Like at the original stall in Ho Chi Minh City, there is no menu, only a board displaying the day’s special, which the staff will explain and describe in detail.
On the day we went, that dish was bun bo hue, a pho-like beef noodle dish with accents of lemongrass and shrimp paste. We also ordered bun mam, a seafood gumbo-like dish while also ordering a side of spring rolls. Both dishes were excellent: the soup bases were delightfully flavourful and fragrant, and the noodles the perfect chewiness. The bun mam was particularly delicious, the bowl stuffed with fresh seafood and bursting with flavour.
And that’s another high point: the ingredients, including the noodles, are flown in fresh from Vietnam, which adds to the legitimacy of the dishes and the authenticity of the experience.
Another particular highlight was the extensive list of the sort of drinks you could order if you were on holiday in Vietnam. With fresh coconuts, Southeast Asian sodas, and Vietnamese coffee, you're guaranteed the perfect accompaniment to your noodles.
What’s not: The restaurant is walk-in only and currently the talk of the town, making getting a seat during peak hours pretty difficult. We went at around 8.30pm on a rainy Wednesday, and still had to wait for about 15-20 minutes to get a seat. Be prepared for this.
The lack of mainstream Vietnamese dishes may also be a stumbling block for people, but trying new dishes is truly part of the experience.
Cost: Noodles cost HK$98, sides are HK$58, and drinks around HK$20-HK$50.