The restaurant is set at two levels, with more seating capacity on the first floor. The lighting is pretty dim (not something I like, especially when I'm trying to take snaps without using my flash), but one look at the menu and I knew that the food should more or less make up for the disappointment [however, please note, henceforth the flash shall be very generously used when there are issues with lighting - trying to capture the aesthetics in a photograph will be a thing of the past].
After a thorough examination of the menu and it's contents, we ordered the following: pork spare ribs (Duh! This was almost taken for granted that it would be ordered), Vietnamese spring rolls, Banh Xeo [a Vietnamese pancake], lettuce wraps, Vietnamese lamb, and veg momos. The photo of the ribs didn't come out too well, and was badly blurred (I know, I almost make it sound like a burn victim!), and so isn't put up. So since we're on the topic of the ribs, these were very good, but I think for the money charged, the portion was, let's say, tiny. I think when you charge around Rs 250 for a dish, it shouldn't get over in jiffy. Soft and succulent, the sauce was a darker than most places that make spare ribs - more soy, but tasty nonetheless.
The Vietnamese lamb (now I don't know if there is a local name for this or not) wasn't too different from any lamb starter I've had at most places that serve Oriental cuisine. This was nice as well, and since VP couldn't eat it due to his various funny allergies, PiousDope and I had the task of finishing it.
The last of the non-veg starters was the lettuce wraps, filled with bean sprouts, shrimps, and a couple of other veggies. This was served with a fish sauce and a soy sauce. This dish was very nicely done - crisp lettuce, with some nicely flavoured shrimps and crunchy sprouts, along with a fishy fish sauce made this a wonderful wrap. The flavours and the texture were quite good and the combination obviously works - worked for us at least.
Among the veg dishes, the momos were like at most other places, and there isn't much to say about them that no one already knows. If it helps, I'll also add that they weren't bad. For the other two dishes (almost the rock stars among the starters), the spring rolls and the Banh Xeo, I almost wished we could go there again just for these dishes. The Banh Xeo was a nice, crispy pancake - more of a crepe actually, had a nice taste to it. The rice flour used itself must've been seasoned quite nicely, and the stuffing of crunchy bean sprouts and other veggies added to texture as well as the taste. The veg spring rolls, although a tad difficult to hold in the hands (kinda flimsy), were quite superb when it came to taste.
When it came to our main course, PiousDope said he was full and wanted only dessert and had a lemon grass ice cream (sorry, no snap), that turned out to be OK. P decided to go in for the national dish of Vietnam, Pho, which is essentially a large bowl of watery soup with noodles and veggies (and also meats of various kinds, but P had the veg version). VP, although full, made claims that he'd be in a position to eat a full main course dish (which is when I realised I'd be needed to finish off what he leaved behind to avoid wasting the food). So while VP ordered a jungle fish curry, I wanted to have a Vietnamese pork sandwich (which turned out to be 'over') but settled for a Vietnamese red curry.
All three dishes were nice, but I won't be able to comment on authenticity too much as the knowledge I have about Vietnamese cuisine is theoretical. The Pho, though, had a strong doze of cinnamon in it and I'm sure if that much was needed (personal preference - I love cinnamon, but in moderate quantities), while the two curries were quite good. I thought my dish could've used a bit more chili in it, but I'm not complaining.
For dessert, we ordered a coconut sorbet and a hot corn soup in coconut milk. P and I immediately guessed the latter to be a form of payasa, which is pretty much what it turned out to be, and tasted almost as good as the ones that our made in South Canara and Udupi districts of Karnataka. The sorbet though was kinda disappointing for me, although P liked it a little more than I did. The taste was not of fresh coconut, but it had the taste and texture of coconut fat that's solidified and then used as opposed to mixed and blended into the sorbet. Those of you from Mangalore and South Canara, in case you've eaten semeda addye (say-may-da add-yay) with coconut milk mixed with jaggery and sliced bananas, you'd know that if the milk is kept in the fridge overnight, in the morning the 'fat' solidifies on the top, and it's the taste of this very fat that I encountered in the sorbet.
Overall, quite a satisfying meal, although, for the prices charged, I wish they'd increase the portions a little bit. As it is I was a little sad that they didn't have bún chả, on the menu, and on top of that they didn't have the pork sandwich, which sort of made me feel worse. And since they're new, and we're very forgiving, we'll excuse them this time, but on the sauces served with the dishes (a waiter, upon being asked, checked and told us it was a chef's special sauce) actually contained fish sauce in it (not very pungent, or we'd have guessed immediately), and P ended up eating it. Luckily, he isn't the kind of vegetarian who'll want to go and jump into the Ganga to cleanse himself after eating meat. I just hope such fishy tales are repeated by other diners.
Food: Pretty good, although portions can increase
$$$: A touch on the higher side, considering the size of the portions served. Around Rs 600 - 700 per head
Verdict: Must visit, for it's probably the only affordable Vietnamese restaurant in town.
Phobidden Fruit, #965, 12th Main, HAL 2nd Stage, Indiranagar, Bangalore. Phone: 41255175