Something old is new again.
After 12 years at Ferryden Park, Nghi Nhan Quan (NNQ), an institution in Vietnamese food in Adelaide, has moved to Woodville and will reopen soon.
The landlords of the building have decided they will give the restaurant business a go and have just opened Mai Kitchen Vietnamese Restaurant in NNQ’s old location on Wright Street, Ferryden Park.
This is a smart move on their part – every time we’ve been to NNQ it’s been packed, and the owners of Mai Kitchen now have an opportunity to wow those customers and keep them coming back for more.
So with renovations, a good clean up and some new décor, Mai Kitchen has taken something old and made it new again.
In the lead up to the official opening night, we were treated to a tasting menu – eight courses in total.
The first entrée was grilled quails marinated in Mai’s special blend of herbs and spices. The spice mix was absolutely delicious – not spicy hot, but full of flavour. Quail is a little fiddly to eat and it seemed a touch overcooked; the meat wasn’t exactly pulling away from the bones. Not my favourite, but this was a tasty dish.
We also tried the Ha Noi spring rolls, deep fried rice paper spring rolls. These were nice and crispy, and the rolls were quite fat with a good amount of filling.
And finally for entrée, sugar cane prawns. The prawn meat was compressed into rolls, which were easy to eat and so tasty that they were gone in a flash. But they were served without the sugar cane, which seemed strange. One of the things I love about sugar cane prawns is the chance to chew down on that sugar cane and get a burst of flavour, but that wasn’t to be. All dishes were served with fresh salad and herbs, and dipping sauces.
The first main course was the special seafood salad – seasonal grilled seafood tossed with glass noodles, fresh herbs, lettuce and sauce. This was just delicious, with seafood lightly cooked and tossed through the noodles, along with the fresh herbs and sauce. An excellent balance of sweet, sour, spicy and salty. This dish was certainly a highlight of the evening. It probably could have done with an extra prawn and scallop each, and a little less of the noodles, but it was so full of flavour that we couldn’t get enough of it.
The Hanoi style pork with vermicelli consisted of charcoal grilled pork in a special marinade from Hanoi served with the noodles, fresh herbs and salad, topped with nuoc mam cham sauce. We weren’t quite sure how to eat this dish. The pork pieces were inconsistently cooked – some were soft and tender, while others were almost rock hard. The meat was also cold. The dish looked nice enough but it was the most disappointing of the night.
My favourite dish was the Vietnamese savoury pancake, with chicken, pork and prawns, bean sprouts, mung beans, and mixed herbs. I loved the crispiness of the pancake, the combination of savoury flavours with the fresh herbs and vegetables, and the sweetness of the dipping sauce. The small portions of meat were mostly cooked into the pancake itself. It looked like a simple dish, but under the surface of that pancake there was a lot going on! My only gripe is that, because all of the dishes came out at once, this was effectively cold by the time we got to eat it. I would have loved to try it when the pancake was still warm.
For dessert: Vietnamese Ya Ua, a Vietnamese street dessert, Mai’s homemade lime “yoghurt”. I’m not sure why this is called a yoghurt, although there is a creaminess at the bottom of the dish, but it was more like a sorbet. The lime flavours were fresh and zesty, and could easily have served as a palate cleanser between dishes, rather than as a dessert at the end.
We also tried all four of the house cocktails on the tasting menu: the Watermelon Mai-jito, consisting of watermelon, spied run and lime; the Berry Berry Lychee, a delicious nice blend of fruit, Chambord and lychee liqueur, rubis and lemonade; the Coco Mango, with vodka, Malibu, rum, coconut water and mango nectar; and the Mai-dori Illusion, a classic cocktail with a Mai twist of Midori, vodka, Cointreau, lime and pineapple juice. My favourites were the Berry Berry Lychee and the Mai-dori Illusion.
One issue that the new restaurant hasn’t addressed yet is the ambient volume. The last couple of times we’d been to NNQ, it was so noisy we couldn’t hear ourselves think, and talking with friends over dinner became more like shouting with friends over dinner. Unfortunately, this is still the case in the old-but-new premises. It doesn’t make for a relaxing night out, so I hope the new restaurant is able to do something about it eventually.
Despite some hiccups on the night, I was well aware that Mai Kitchen was still a few nights off its official opening. Some of the dishes were so tasty that I would go back there to try them again, and maybe a few other dishes from the full menu too!
Overall, a fresh coat of paint is not the only new aspect of this restaurant. The tasting menu had some very exciting, accessible dishes on it, and I’m looking forward to more experiences at the all-new Mai’s Kitchen.
** I was an invited guest.