I miss the Little Vietnam and Codo restaurants in Midvalley as they were among the most affordable of its kind. I still curse the Barbie shop (which took over the place) under my breath whenever I pass it by. This brought me to start looking for another place to satisfy my Vietnamese cravings.
Sao Nam has been nominated multiple times as Best Indochinese Restaurant in KL by Time Out KL. Not only that, it's ranked no 18 for restaurants in KL on tripadvisor.com! The prices are higher than Little Vietnam and Codo, as it is touted to be fine Vietnamese cuisine in a casual setting. They have two outlets in Bukit Bintang and Empire Mall Subang, respectively.
I like the pop artish look of the restaurant btw. If you get bored, one can try count how many stars decorate the place. The menu is also pretty extensive and there are special dishes you'd have to pre-order first. I am intrigued with the mangosteen prawn although I'm sure it's going to be pricey. Since we just walked in, we didn't have that lah.
Imperial Rolls or Hue Spring Roll (RM18 for 6 pieces)
I've had Vietnamese spring rolls before, but this was my first crispy one. Sao Nam hand makes these wraps which, unlike the usual smooth rice wrapper, has a lacy pattern like our local roti jala. Unfortunately, I think the wrap was just a smidge too thick for my liking.
K- Really? Too thick? I thought the wrap was just nice.
Inside the crispy exterior is a prawn and chicken filling. The spring roll is not complete without vietnamese dipping sauce that is sweet, sour, salty and spicy (using fish sauce, cili and garlic). Despite being deep fried, I didn't find this dish to be oily.
This is not quiet food for each bite gives out a crackle and crrrrrunch only slightly muffled when you wrap it in lettuce, thai basil and mint leaves. I had a bite sans leafy greens and I find that with is better as it gives a more refreshing and cooling (that's probably the mint) taste.
Texture wise, this was more interesting than the normal fresh spring roll, although I still prefer the latter. The portion was a little too much for 2 pax.
Chicken Curry Noodle Soup or Bun Cari (RM`18)
K doesn't care for pho (GASP) so he tried this instead. As like most Vietnamese noodle dishes, it comes with a side of herbs and veggies of thai basil, taugeh, etc.
It's a sweeter, milder version of our curry mee, with a generous serving of chicken and not much else. That's right, no taufu pok, no kerang (blood clams) or fish balls, etc! The taste is so similar to curry mee that it is difficult, almost impossible, to not poke around the dish looking for those things. That nagging feeling of something missing is too hard to shake, which is a shame.
If you don't care for all those things, then this dish is for you. As for me, I'll just stick with Malaysian curry mee. The noodles were nice though, more mee sua than mee.
K- Agree. Too sweet for me, feels like sweetened kuah lemak rather than curry.
Red Noodle or Cao Lu (RM18)
I decided to be adventurous and skip my usual pho for another Imperial dish famous that is the speciality of Hoi An. The noodles (similar to hor fun) is served with minced chicken and prawns, sesame crackers, fried shallots, nuts and a smidgen of some fish sauce and oil (chicken fat? sesame?). It is served with the usual herbs too.
It also comes with a bowl of prawn soup, which you are to take after a bite of the noodles. The noodle dish was slightly salty with just a slight bitterness from the herbs and shallots, while the soup was sweet. It was a very interesting experience although I admit, I tend to forget to sip the soup.
The noodles were soft and alas, so were my crackers from the sauce. Darn, I was really hoping for more crunch from the crackers too. Oh well, nuts came to rescue. :) Overall, it's a very nice light dish and, despite the many raves for this dish, it can no way ruin my love affair with pho! Sorry, cao lu but pho is still my ichiban ^.^
K- The red noodle once mixed up, is not really that red. And strangely enough, the soup was okay the first time I tasted it but when I tasted it again, it was just too salty.
Note to self - forget being adventurous, eat pho next time.
Interesting fact - Cao Lu (or Cao Lau) is usually a non-halal dish. It normally consists of lean pork slices, and the sauce contains pork jus (omg I've been watching too much Top Chef!)
I have to admit that my expectations were high after reading the rave reviews. Did it meet it? Not quite. The food was good but not in the omg-I'm-still-dreaming-about-it-way. I'll definitely give it a try again, although not in the near future as it is rather pricey.
In short - Good food, nice decor and service. The menu is expansive and a wee bit expensive, the noodle dishes are the cheaper mains in the menu.
Sao Nam Restaurant
L28, Empire Shopping Gallery
Jalan SS16, 47500 Subang
Tel - 03 5022 2122/ 2123
(The website has recipes!)
Price Range - $$ - $$$
No pork served - booze sold
Edit July 2013 - Sao Nam at Empire has closed down. Their official website has not been updated either. Not sure when it happened as I don't go to Empire often but I've read that service went downhill there.