One of the perks of travelling is that you get to experience unique cuisines not found in Singapore. 3 years ago, I discovered a particular dish in Hanoi that blew my socks off called Chả cá lã vọng, which is essentially grilled turmeric fish. Imagine how ecstatic I was when I chanced upon VS Cafe located at Northshore Plaza II, which sells the very thing I’ve been craving for ages!
The owner of VS Cafe, Diep, comes from a family that’s been in the food business since 1965. In 2005, she left her high-paying accountant job in Vietnam and moved to Singapore.
She started VS Vietnamese Cuisine at the National University of Singapore for 15 years before moving on to open VS Cafe at Pasir Panjang Road.
Her latest outlet at Punggol opened in Jan 2022. It has about 10 to 12 tables that can accommodate about a maximum of 40 people in one seating.
What I tried at VS Cafe
For the highlight of my visit, the Cha Ca VS (S$20.90 for 2 pax) came with a plate of Vietnamese rice noodles, a plate of mixed salad and herbs, 2 bowls of dipping sauces, and the main item: a mini non-stick pot with the prized possession.
It contained pieces of grilled fish that’s been marinated with turmeric, served with loads of fresh dill and spring onion, and soaked in olive oil.
Traditionally back in Hanoi, catfish is used and it’s cut up into smaller cubes. The version at VS Cafe features thick slices of snakehead fish instead.
The fish was extremely fresh, and the aromatic turmeric flavouring thoroughly penetrated the meat.
Compared to the popular mainstream herbs like rosemary and thyme, dill is underrated and definitely deserves more recognition and exposure— I’m glad that the Vietnamese embrace it.
Possessing a fresh and citrus taste with a grassy undertone, it’s the Romeo to the Juliet for seafood pairings, especially fish!
The olive oil had transformed into this lovely concentrated elixir, which absorbed the umami flavours of the fish, the earthy tones of the turmeric spice, and the herby infusions of the dill and spring onions— just douse it over the fish to make it taste like a million bucks.
I took a portion of rice noodles, paired it with a slice of fish and herbs, and doused it in the dipping sauce. “Om nom nom nom“… I chewed away as I got lost in its taste, reliving the same positive food experience I had the last time I ate this.
If you’re looking for a good deal, VS Cafe has a couple of Banh Mi Combos like the Pork Ham Baguette which comes with a glass of Dripping Coffee for S$12.90.
The baguette was stuffed with pork slices, pork ham, a layer of pate, coriander, and pickled strips of cucumber, carrot and radish. The bread was extremely crispy on the surface, yet fluffy and soft on the inside.
The pork slices and ham within were tender, and the tangy strips of pickled vegetables helped mellow down the unctuousness of the pate— my only complaint is that they could have added more stuffing.
I flushed down my awesome meal with the VS Iced Milk Coffee (S$4.90) and the dripping coffee from the set. The iced coffee was strong and aromatic, a perfect perk-me-up to get you through the day.
I waited patiently for the VS Dripping Viet Coffee to work its magic before I removed the cover. The slightly dark tones of the coffee became lighter upon dissolving it in the condensed milk whilst stirring it.
The overall sweetness of the cup of joe was perfectly balanced, but the flavour was slightly watered down as compared to the iced coffee.
I kept an exclusive compartment in my tummy specially for desserts. The Banh Flan (Crème Caramel) (S$3.90) wasn’t my original first pick, but the other 5 varieties weren’t available that day.
It resembled the caramel custard dessert which I regularly have from Taiwanese convenience stores, and was served with a bunch of ice cubes on top.
The intense eggy flavour of the wobbly flan made me think of egg tarts immediately. I picked up a slightly bitter aftertaste, and was taken aback when the sauce below turned out to be coffee instead of caramel.
The conflicting tastes of bitter and sweet actually worked for me, and soon I was hooked!
Finding Chả cá lã vọng in Singapore is an arduous task, and I recently found out that there’s only one other place which sells it.
The version served here doesn’t have peanuts unlike the ones in Hanoi, and this failed to provide that crunch to fully enjoy this dish.
If you do order this, remember to pour your noodles into the fish mini pot. Give it a good stir and enjoy (unlike me who had totally forgotten)!
Expected damage: S$6.50 – S$10 per pax
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