It is difficult to get good sushi outside of Japan, especially in a country like Vietnam.
However, that is changing fast. Large influxes of Japanese investment into the manufacturing facilities in Vietnam has brought with it a massive immigration boom of Japanese and their culture. Japanese food, once considered something you can rarely find without traveling oversea, has now been made readily available at all price points.
When I heard of this 7 seats, hole-in-the-wall, kaiseki, omakase-only place in the middle of the Japanese expat’s area inside Saigon, I had to go. This was not my first visit. I knew the chef since the opening of his previous restaurants. For a long time, I tried to avoid writing about this place in fear that I will expose my only “hidden” treasure. However, I have to give Hung his respect.
The tasting menu at Hung doesn’t have a fixed price, often depending on the quality and availability of the ingredient on that day. An omakase experience can range from 450,000 VND ($20) all the way up to 1,200,000 VND ($50).
The meal starts off with a delicious dish of marinated sea bass. The usually tough fish was made succulent and tender by the marinade, enhancing its beautiful subtle flavor.
The next dish followed with a sashimi of local garlic whelks and mackerel. The whelks were sweet and crunchy, perfectly complimented by a touch of spicy wasabi. The mackerel was fatty and deep with rich flavor after being slightly warm with a torch to melt some of the fat.
Next comes a trio of mind-blowingly delicious sashimi bites. The local prawn was dusted with a powder of its own roe, enhancing its briny flavor while making its sweetness and crunch popped. The tuna cheek was divine, melting at the slightest touch of the tongue. The uni, however, was the showstopper. Devoid of any smells that make uni off-putting, this uni was creamy and sweet with intense ocean flavor.
Delicious take on a typical braised or simmered fish dishes in Japan, this time using a more South East Asian ingredient, grouper. The fish was delicate and soft, moist with a beautiful flavor that was not overwhelmed by the soy braising liquid.
A solid tempura course. Sweet prawn was expertly fried in a thin coating of tempura batter to preserve its delicate texture and flavor.
While I waited for my sushi course to come, the chef gave me a dish of tuna tartare to go with my drink.
Then comes the main part of the meal, starting with a beautiful piece of sayori. The needle fish was delicate and mild in flavor with a soft and tender texture.
I was disappointed to find that there was no otoro for tonight’s dinner. However, the chutoro was perfectly adequate. An amazing slice of fatty tuna melted immediately as it touched the tongue while also carrying it with it the deep flavor of leaner tuna.
A piece of hirame came next, this time lightly torched to add a layer of smokey flavor and paired perfectly with rock salt and a touch of lime.
The sea bass was perfectly tender after being cured lightly in a mixture of salt and kombu.
Hands down the best dish of the night. Beautifully creamy uni contrasted the lightly vinegared rice to create a bite from heaven.
One of Hung’s specialty has to be the incorporation of local Vietnamese fishes into his cuisine. This time, Bonito straight from the sea of Vietnam was lightly grilled and paired with a beautiful tart sauce and rock salt.
While eggs are usuality reserved for the end of the meal, Hung likes to serve it midway through his sushi course as a sort of palate cleanser. Rich and oozing fresh tamago came to the table piping hot, acting as a way to contrast the rich and subtle flavor previously with a punch of sweet egg flavor.
The next course was house cured ikura. Little pops of ocean flavor mixed well with the rice to make for an amazing eating experience.
I always appreciate when a sushi master prefers anago over unagi. For me, anago has a deeper flavor with a firmer texture, allowing for a longer lingering sensation. This anago was no doubt delicious.
The meal ended with a beautifully prepared prawn. An homage to how local Vietnamese eats prawns, the chef torched his prawn with a small sprinkle of chili salt, giving the bite a certain sense of warmth and smokiness that complemented the prawn’s sweetness perfectly.
Ultimately, the meal at Hung was beautiful. His usage of local fishes brought a fresher take on the antique belief that all fishes need to be flown in from Tsukiji every morning to create a successful sushi restaurant. While it is not to the same pedigree as the Michelined masters of Japan, his cuisine is still growing and his food can be successful anywhere in the world. Additionally, for $50 a try, this is not a bad deal for top notch sushi.