#12-01 Orchard Central, 181 Orchard Road.
Call +65 6884 6808.
Vietnam is probably the only country in the world where you could eat street food every day and not die from scurvy. This is because its staple ingredients include fragrant herbs like basil and mint and the freshest, crunchiest vegetables imaginable. Nuoc (pronounced “Nwok”), which opened in November 2009, has created a delicious menu of traditional South Vietnamese dishes, and serves them in an elegant rooftop setting with fantastic city views.
We began with a palate-cleansing plate of fresh spring rolls ($18) – plump prawns, sliced pork with slithers of tasty fat still attached, vermicelli and fresh green herbs rolled into wafer-thin sheets of rice paper – which we devoured after dunking them headfirst into a sauce of soya bean, peanut, chilli and pickled vegetable. The detox continued with a generous plateful of the tri-season salad ($22): prawns, pork and a tangle of juicy herbs, green papaya and lotus root tossed together in a lip-smacking vinegar dressing and served with crunchy prawn crackers.
It was difficult to pin down a suitable adjective for the next course – a sweet and sour clear tomato soup with pineapple, okra, lotus root and sliced fish ($14). I finally settled on “addictive”, when I found it difficult to put my spoon down. Be warned, though – the fiery chilli padi that accompanies this soup has the potential to do alarming things to your insides.
With this in mind, when a fresh bowl of chilli was placed in front of me for the next dish I left it well alone – unlike the bloke, who shovelled his way through a substantial amount of the satanic fruit. I was content to tuck into a (chilli-free) claypot of stewed pork ($18): a traditional, home-style meal of tender slices of smoky pork piled high, steeped in a rich meaty stock and served with steamed rice.
After dinner we moved outside for coffee and the view. Unfortunately, the latter was blocked by a group of noisy students who had congregated along the perimeter railing. But this did nothing to detract from the bliss of sipping on a Vietnamese coffee – rich black liquid dripped slowly into a cup containing thick condensed milk, and then stirred to create something indescribably sweet and delicious.
Nuoc rekindled our long-standing love of Vietnam and its cuisine; we made a pact that very night to revisit its shores as soon as possible.