Working in Makati, I come across this interesting place on my way home every night. Ba Noi’s is a Vietnamese restaurant. And before I explain further why I find this place interesting, there are some facts you need to know about me. First, I can’t cook but I love (with much emphasis on love!) to eat. Please don’t let me explain how any food is prepared because I might tell you it’s magic. It’s also the right time for me to insert a disclaimer here that some of the technical descriptions of food in this review, I’ve taken straight from the actual menu. Second, I’m not a Vietnamese food aficionado but Vietnamese food is definitely on top of my list of favorite cuisines. Third, there are very few Vietnamese restaurants (that I know of) here in Manila like Pho Hoa, Pho Bac and Pho 24 – all of which I’ve already tried. This explains why I got excited when I saw Ba Noi’s just around the corner. Well there is Zao and La Petite Camille, places I haven’t tried – but that’s another story (or another restaurant review entry).
So where exactly in Makati is Ba Noi’s located? Here’s their official address: G/F Greenbelt Mansions, Perea Street, Legaspi Village, Makati City. Ba Noi’s is facing Perea Street but you won’t miss it from Dela Rosa Street on your way to Greenbelt 5. It’s comfortably placed in between Mom & Tina’s and Piggy Wiggy. Excited to try their dishes, I brought along two of my office friends with me. [Side Note: Yes, office friends exist while they might be an endangered species. So when you find them, tie them up! Or just keep them close because they’re really hard to find.] Because we’d planned to dine there on a Friday night, my friend called (843-4770) a day earlier to reserve us a table for three. They allow reservations with a 15-minute window time. Isn’t that sweet?
We all know that Vietnam used to be a French colony and French influence is still very much evident in their food among other things. The Pho could be a good example, being a blend of Vietnamese rice noodles and French-inspired meat broths. It’s undeniable that the Vietnamese have taken some inspiration from French cuisine yet have created a cuisine that is very much their own.
Ba noi means grandmother in Vietnamese and this might explain why Ba Noi’s has a hole-in-the-wall feel to it. At night you’ll catch their restaurant signage, brightly lit in red. There were four to five group tables outside, already filled when we arrived. As we enter, we easily spotted our reserved table because it had our friend’s name on it.
Ba Noi’s interiors are simple – white walls with one side full of photographs of their menu. One panel even shows what to do once you receive your order of Vietnamese coffee. The cashier, the food counter, and the entrance to their kitchen are all located in the far end of the restaurant, which effortlessly gives customers a clean and organized vibe. They have wooden tables, chairs, and couch – which are still comfortable to sit in (though maybe not advisable for an entire day of stay). I sat on the couch and it was okay. My friend who sat on one of the wooden chairs found it a bit low for comfort.
Their white ceiling lights also play a role in the overall hole in the wall atmosphere of the restaurant. But with my eyes tired from work, I found the light a bit too bright; I tried not to look up too much. I can’t figure out the music they play on the background cause it might be in some traditional Vietnamese tune. While I’m not annoyed by it, my friend was a little distracted because she kept on saying, “What is that song,” she asked this three to four times, if I counted correctly. Trying to scrutinize every corner of the place, I found two things that gave me a very Vietnamese vibe – the faded wooden chopsticks and the authentic lamp.
Their servers are very prompt and polite. Once we’re comfortably seated, our server gave each one of us a copy of their menu that was printed back-to-back in a glossy, approximately A3-sized sintra board. They had few items in their menu. I liked it because it was few yet there were variety. It was also easy to call any server’s attention because they were plain on sight. The server was able to note and serve our orders correctly. They were also not too quick to clean up our plates, which is good. I hate it when other restaurants would not ask for your permission first before taking out plates that they think you don’t need anymore.
You can’t go to a Vietnamese restaurant and not order a fresh spring roll. It’s an unforgivable sin! Not really, but it’s one of the dishes that is distinctly Vietnamese – you must order this. Goi Cuon is pork, shrimp, and vermicelli goodness rolled in rice paper, served with peanut sauce. Ba Noi’s version at Php195 is served in three long rolls with each one sliced in half. There was generous portion of pork and shrimp, and it tasted as fresh as it looked. The rice paper wrap had the right chewiness to it. And then there was the peanut sauce. I smelled the peanut intensity the moment the food was served on our table and the taste did not disappoint. Each of us was given our own peanut sauce and for me, that’s a plus! The freshness of the rolls and the chunky nuttiness of the sauce is a perfect combination.
I ordered Pho Ga (Php230) for my main course. The bowl is big enough to be shared by two but I gulped it down single-handed because I was hungry. Pho Ga is one of their recommended and popular dishes. It is rice noodles in steaming hot chicken soup with fermented soybean paste and chili sauce. The dish was neither colorful nor fancy because the broth and the ingredients were almost monotonous in color. The broth is thin with a distinct flavor. Somehow it reminds me of Chinese birthday noodle. The rice noodle was flat and smooth and chewy – just the right kind of smoothness to not slide off your chopstick. I believe the beef version, Pho Bo tastes better but I’m not a fan of beef so I ended up with Pho Ga instead.
Luckily, my friend ordered Pho Bo for his main course and so I still got a taste of it. It’s only Php30 more expensive than the Pho Ga. My friend found the noodle bland for his taste but I think rice noodles were meant to be that way so that the broth’s flavor will be the main focus. Ba Noi’s Pho Bo is home-made beef noodle soup served with fresh herbs and spices. I took a sip from his bowl and found out that the beef flavor was not too strong. I could eat this kind of beef.
My other friend who also writes food reviews on her blog (check out thehungryemployee.wordpress.com) is very critical with the flavor of food she eats. She ordered Bun Cha Gio Thit Nuong (Php230) and was happy with it. I was also quite relieved that she won’t hate me for bringing her along. Bun Cha Gio Thit Nuong is a rice noodle dish served with fried spring rolls and grilled pork in home-made sauce and pickled carrot daikon. This dish is one of those that are beautifully presented. She shared that the dish has the right sourness to it. I took a bite on one of the fried springrolls and the meat was really flavorful with a soft crunch.
We also ordered other dishes for sharing. Ban Xeo and Ca Kho To. Ban Xeo is a savory crepe with sauteed pork, shrimp, and bean sprouts. It’s priced at Php250, served with fresh vegetables and Nuoc Mam sauce. My friend thinks that the crepe tasted like naan because it didn’t have a strong flavor. The dish looked like lumpiang hubad with meat instead of veggies in it but the flavor reminded me of fried springrolls with a secret, surprise aftertaste of sticky rice. Now, I’m imagining suman.
But the Ca Kho To was the biggest surprise for me. I came to Ba Noi’s with specific menus in mind and Ca Kho To was not part of my intial plan. But my Ba Noi’s experience wouldn’t be the same without this dish . It was really good. How do I begin describing it? Ca Kho To is deep fried catfish, simmered in rich caramel sauce, garnished with spring onions and fresh chillies. Another meal at Php250, I can come back to Ba Noi’s and just order this dish and pair it with two bowls of white rice. Ca Kho To was served hot and still sizzling in a black clay pot. I think the pot kept the catfish hot, soft, and evenly cooked. I don’t have a sweet tooth but I found the sweetness of this dish to be just right. Savory and sweet, soft and crunchy, this dish for me is the winner of the night.
One more thing you need to know about me is that I’m addicted to coffee. Therefore, obviously, I cannot resist Vietnamese coffee. I decided to order their Iced Vietnamese Coffee while my friend ordered it hot – both priced at Php110. Both also came in the same preparation, only I was provided with a glass full of ice to pour in my hot coffee. The coffee came in a small glass with a coffee drip which you have to wait to finish in about less than five minutes. We took a sip of the coffee before pouring in the condensed milk and it was really strong. That explained why a condensed milk would be the most appropriate pair. After mixing the condensed milk into my coffee, I transferred it to the glass of ice, took a sip, and knew that the day was going to end great. The strong coffee flavor was not tamed by the condensed milk. The milk enhanced the intense flavor of the coffee with just the right amount of sweetness and thickness to it.Vietnamese cuisine makes me happy because their menu is full of vegetables and herbs. If I must sum it up, for me Vietnamese food is equals to fresh herbs. It has very distinct and very different flavor compared to other cuisines.
I ate so much, I was too full to order dessert but my friend ordered Banh Da Lon anyway. Afterall, you can’t cap a dinner without dessert. Banh Da Lon (Php135) is warm pandan cake filled with mung bean, drizzled with coconut cream and toasted sesame seeds. It tasted like a hybrid of sapin-sapin and buchi. I’m not a fan of pandan but this dessert is not bad at all. And sesame seeds have won me over.
I’ve said much and maybe it’s about time you try this yourself. Will I be back? Definitely. We’ve just started eating and my friend was already planning to bring her parents to Ba Noi’s. How is that for tasty? I’d recommend Ba Noi’s to families and friends who would like some quiet dine of fresh, herby, awesome goodness. Vietnamese food might not be as common as Italian pizzas and American burgers available in every corner of this city. And the distinct scent and flavor of cilantro might be an acquired taste for some. But it’s definitely a must-try. If you’ve been a meat eater your entire life, Vietnamese cuisine could either be a challenge or a breath taste of fresh air. And if you ever decide to try out a Vietnamese restaurant, Ba Noi’s could be a good place to start. May I end this with a coffee toast to all that is fresh, leafy, herby, and healthy? Now, it’s time to munch.