After my favorite vegan Vietnamese joint closed down earlier this year (RIP FOREVER MY LOVE) I was desperate to find a worthy alternative. Although it’s quite different and will never replace the classic soul food of my beloved Quy Ngyuen, I was delighted to discover the innovative and crafty cuisine of Con Tho.
Admittedly, it took 3 tries to be convinced. The first try – we were a group of 7 people – was delightful. We shared pretty much all of the small and medium sized little dishes from the menu. What surprised me the most was the love for detail that went into creating and plating the dishes. I would say that Con Tho is in a healthy price range (anything really from “quick lunch” to “elaborate dinner with friends on a special occasion”). At around 17 to 25€ for a decadent meal (two starters, main dish, shared dessert and drinks), I do not expect that kind of special attention for the small things.
All of the dishes are innovative but fairly simple. Fried aubergine steaks with nori leaves, petite Bhan Baos with homemade Kurkuma mayonnaise or steaming hot soup bowls with fried noodles for dipping make Con Tho an outstanding place to try new compositions of comforting flavors. Basically, it’s nothing like next-door neighbor Hamy (tbh I wouldn’t mind if someone gentrified that place, if only it brought Quy Nguyen back).
Now, my second try was rather disappointing (and even more so as I was hailing Con Tho as my new favorite spot for the summer). The staff literally stared at us for around one full hour before they bothered to service us, then brought the wrong dishes, then delivered a rather bland Saigon Summer bowl (think: the Vietnamese version of Bibimbap).
But at my last try – I really wanted this relationship to work – the food was absolutely fantastic again. I think the trick is to choose two or three of the small and medium “snack” sized dishes and NOT share them with other people, but instead devour them as a main. Steamed mushrooms, a simple sweet potato in mayo, the aforementioned aubergine and the crispy tofu might not reinvent the Vietnamese wheel, but their simplicity is on point.
For some more creative dishes, the Tofu carpaccio or the leeks are amazing. What I specifically like about Con Tho is (I assume) the lack of sugar or excessive oil to give their vegan ingredients flavor (I’m looking at you, 1190). Instead, they’re actually working with their regional and seasonal produce, trying to squeeze out the best of it. This is a concept that works for me in many different ways. I like it when cultures of food merge without necessitating definitions like “fusions”. It’s not fusion cuisine, it’s integrative cuisine. It feels young and unrestrictive, like someone’s actually trying to create something with what they have on hand.
God, I love that sweet potato.
On the other hand – that sometimes means that the dishes don’t deliver the typical, 100% “I need a Pho” sort of Vietnamese comfort of taste. But I can absolutely live with that.
By the way, the restaurant isn’t exclusive for vegans. I’m pretty sure the selection of wines, shakes and tasty dishes will also make meat lovers rejoice. Just saying.