For example, the menu features a crispy duck leg wonton with Thai red curry (VND60,000). In all, there are three small parcel-shaped pieces in one serving, deep-fried with curry drizzled about the edges and beneath, then garnished with shredded red cabbage.
For anyone watching their waistline, the sight of the wontons is cause for gentle alarm. But when you bite into them, there’s a puff of steam followed by relief, because they happen to be light but packed with flavour. And the hint of coconut in a wonton isn’t something you taste every day.
This is the effect that wanderlust and a love of food can have on a chef. Chris Donnellan, chef and co-owner of Phat’s, has had an affinity with Southeast Asia for some time. He has travelled extensively round the region, a few years ago winding up in Vietnam.
But it wasn’t until his early 20s (Chris is now 33) and newly installed as head chef at acclaimed Melbourne restaurant Gingerboy, that he began to look at Asian food in a different way.
“I’ve always had a love for food,” says Chris. “But my passion for Asian food comes from Gingerboy. I’ve carried that on at Phat’s. It’s about getting the perfect balance of flavours, but having fun at the same time.”
The simplicity behind Phat’s menu is probably the closest it comes to traditional dim sum that’s available across Ho Chi Minh City. Small dishes, one to three pieces, one or two gulps each. That’s where the similarities end.
Take the roasted pork bao with slaw (VND60,000). It’s roasted pork belly, coleslaw and spiced hoisin sauce in a delicate fluffy-white bun. Barely palm-size, it’s a pleasure to sink your teeth into. The pork bao is tangy and sends all sorts of flavours whizzing around your tongue. But be warned. Their size is a trap and may have you over-ordering.
Phat’s suggests punctuating stuffing yourself with any one of their beverages, of which there are plenty, both with and without alcohol. Two years as a chef at Michelin-star holder, Nobu Parklane in London, has left a mark on Chris, as Phat’s has a chrysanthemum tea for VND35,000 or, if you want to hit the top end of the scale, you can have a 120ml glass of Gekkeikan chilled sake for VND160,000.
While the winter melon and cucumber juice (VND50,000) is refreshing, Phat’s cocktails (VND100,000) better complement the flavours already buzzing around in your mouth and are recommended instead.
Phat’s punch with dark rum, passionfruit, lime, ginger, mint and honey does as its name suggests. But so does the sakerinha (sake, lychee, kaffir lime) and the Blushing Dragon (gin, red dragon fruit, watermelon, kumquat). Phat’s Hot Toddy (whisky, lemon, honey, spices) rounds out the cocktail list.
The Japanese inspiration doesn’t end there. The scallop and edamame steamed dumplings with ginger and soy (VND70,000) along with the roasted eggplant, white miso and sesame (VND35,000) are a pleasant segue before into a more Vietnamese-influenced soft-shell crab bao (VND90,000) with apple slaw and wasabi mayo.
The pork and prawn-steamed dumplings with Sichuan chilli soy (VND55,000) encouraged another long sip of a cocktail, but the award for ingenuity goes to the bo kho pan-fried dumplings (VND65,000). They’re a clever take on a quintessential Vietnamese breakfast dish. The braised Australian beef, carrot and spiced bo kho sauce is reduced then wrapped and lightly fried.
Phat’s is lively, but small. Still, it can seat up to 22 people and it’s a funky place to dine, especially with its Asian cinema-inspired decor. And the best thing about it, is that there are plans to roll out more Phat’s across the city in the New Year.
Phat’s Dumpling House is open every day from 11am to 11pm and is located at 111 Xuan Thuy, Q2, HCMC
Photos by Bao Zoan