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Sheung Wan, Hong Kong
'Follow your nose’ is our suggestion when locating Co Thanh on Kau U Fong, although the rustic noodle shop with its big signage facing Aberdeen Street isn’t too hard to miss. The loose wooden door at the entrance and foldable screen doors give the shop a slightly unfinished look, with grey, raw concrete walls to match the image. It is all part of Co Thanh’s simply furnished charm–plastic stools and stainless steel tables and all. The kitchen bar is the best seat in the house, where guests can see how the noodle soups are prepared. A beverage cart is set at the centre of the dining room, adjacent to the kitchen bar.
The menu may be in Vietnamese, but guests can be reassured with a detailed introduction from the service team. With three noodle soups and two side items, the choice is easy. The bun mam (seafood vermicelli with preserved fish and shrimp soup) is rich and a fish lover’s favourite. The broth is a winner, made with a homemade mix of preserved fish and preserved shrimp paste, together with pineapple for sweetness. The
The flavour of the tropical fruit may not be prominent, but the sweetness lingers through with just enough acidity to enrich the profile. The vermicelli, steamed but not boiled, is chewier than usual, an advantage as the chewy strands stand up against the broth for a bit longer. Fishballs, squid rings, and shrimps were delivered fresh from the market nearby, and the roasted pork slices were rich although the skin not as crisp.
The bun bo hue is a rich beef 'sate' noodle soup, said to have originated in Vietnam’s town of Hue. The base is not as rich as Malaysian peanut-filled satay sauce, but a briny kin that brings out herbaceous profiles such as shallots (fresh and deep fried), lemongrass, and galangal. The broth is slightly less intense than the bun mam but the complexity is a good match, and the beef brisket and sausages make a meaty good treat.
Co Thanh swapped the popular pho for a good banh mi. An improved version since its pop-up at Tong Chong Street Market, the new version has a crispier bun and the inside is less moist to stand up to the pate spread and meat filling. We do prefer the pickled radish and carrots to be sharper, like the banh mi thit at Le Petit Saigon.
The restaurant’s spring rolls are stubby fingers of deep fried filled pastries. The taro rich filling is surprisingly light and we highly suggest guest enjoying them while they are hot, wrapped in lettuce leaves.
The wine selection at Co Thanh is unrated, as the selection for alcoholic beverage is small, with only two Vietnamese beers to choose from. House made beverages are wonderful. The salted lime soda is made with home-preserved limes and lemon soda. The sweet and salty combination works wonders with the noodles served. Vietnamese drip coffee. Guests can wait for the hickory-hued coffee drips into condensed milk, before adding pouring the sweet mix into a fresh glass of ice chips to make a smooth, instant summer chiller.
Service at Co Thanh is casual but attentive. The service team is acknowledgeable in explaining each item in great detail and capable of answering questions about the restaurant’s concept. They are also keen on checking on the guests’ progress throughout the meal.
Dinner for two including one non-alcoholic beverage each amounts to HK$450. Co Thanh’s may be the only Vietnamese noodle shop without an option for pho, and its food selection is small but the quality is prime and is a good example that when the food is good you need little to make it worthy of returning visits.