Let’s be honest. The prospect of eating a buffet breakfast, lunch and dinner every day of your holiday is just plain awful. Daily breakfast buffets alone are enough to prompt the rapid-onset of the “buffet blues” – a cranky disposition coupled with lethargy and a desire to murder the next clumsy restaurant staff member to drop a utensil on the floor.
We love a buffet once in a while just like everybody else, but a daily buffet is just too much, especially in a country like Vietnam which has such fantastic and diverse culinary options.
So how do you stave off the “buffet blues” during your resort stay?
Well, usually, resorts have multiple dining outlets for you to choose from. At the Novotel Phu Quoc Resort, there happens to be a very good seafood restaurant a short stroll from the lobby, within view of the beach and – more importantly – away from the masses elbow deep in the buffet.
Called simply Phu Quoc Seafood Restaurant, one of the starters on their menu is a delightfully colourful mango salad (VND170,000) with pan-fried “jumbo” Phu Quoc prawns. The chef deftly places them on their tails in what resembles a perfectly executed Olympic springboard diver’s tuck position, their heads resting back on a stack of julienned mango, carrot and radish with a sprinkling of ground peanuts.
Listed as a small plate on the menu, it turns out to be quite a hefty appetiser, great value for money and the perfect sharing dish for you and your partner. It’s a variation on the one that’s almost always served at Vietnamese weddings, so it offers a nice cultural element to the experience as well. And what’s not to like about heaping fresh produce onto a prawn cracker and crunching down on it? It’s quite the playful dish.
Mangos in Vietnam can sometimes be hit-and-miss, but this dish’s juicy slivers are the kind that are sweet but also release mini bursts of sourness that tingle the surface of your tongue and the roof of your mouth. The carrot in the dish adds more colour but also helps tone down the buzz pinging about inside our mouths.
But of course it’s the prawns that steal the show. How could they not? They are some of the plumpest things we’ve seen dead or alive this weekend, sautéed in butter, garlic and some of that pepper Phu Quoc has become famous for in the culinary world.
This dish has us guffawing at those suckers in the buffet hall piling their plates with empty calories and bemoaning how their filet mignon doesn’t taste the same as it does back home in wintery Europe.
Because we are adamant that the provenance of our order is strictly Phu Quoc, or at least Vietnam, our next selection is the pan-fried Cobia (VND310,000) with honey-grilled zucchini and carrot.
Strictly speaking, Cobia isn’t a native fish of Vietnam, however, we discover that Vietnam is the world’s third largest producer of the fish, which is known elsewhere as Black Kingfish, Black Bonito and Prodigal Son among other such grandiose names, so we decide it meets our criterion, but only just.
Our fillet of Cobia is delivered to our table resting on a pontoon of glistening zucchini and carrot sticks with a smear of passionfruit sauce to the side which, it turns out, adds life to what is largely a plain tasting fish surprisingly lacking in the taste of the ocean we’d been hoping for. Something else we learn later is that the firm, white flesh of the Cobia isn’t renown for its “fishiness” but rather pairs well with a variety of flavours.
But that’s not to say this dish doesn’t work here, because underneath the fillet our sticks of honey-grilled zucchini and carrots save it. They help add sweetness to the tart of the passionfruit sauce and when combined, they work well in tandem to provide a fresh-tasting tropical dining experience. Given its price and the location it’s served, this dish is worth giving a try if you’re on the island and looking to escape the dreaded buffet.
Our last dish for the evening is the gluten and lactose-free passionfruit cheesecake (VND190,000). Again it’s impeccably plated, a thick disc of cheesecake with a ‘chocolatey-biscuity’ base and a thin passionfruit jelly topping it off. It proves to be a good choice to wrap up a relaxing, casual dining experience in what is evidently the Novotel Phu Quoc Resort’s best restaurant and dining location away from the buffet hell…err…hall.
—All photos by Mike Palumbo. Follow Mike on Instagram at @palumbo_photo
Phu Quoc Seafood Restaurant is at Novotel Phu Quoc Resort in Vietnam