A celebrity chef delivers at newcomer Moi Moi by Luke Nguyen

It’s been a few months since Hong Kong went abuzz at the announcement that Australian-Vietnamese TV star and chef Luke Nguyen would open his first restaurant in Hong Kong in collaboration with ZS Hospitality Group, drawing upon popular dishes from his widely-acclaimed eateries in Sydney, Red Lantern and Fat Noodle. The celeb chef is perhaps best known as the host of shows such as Luke Nguyen’s VietnamLuke Nguyen’s Greater Mekong, and Masterchef Vietnam; however, it’s his authentic and flavour-packed food inspired by his Vietnamese heritage that we were eager to welcome to Hong Kong, celebrity status aside.

Warm lighting and bright, geometric patterns create an eclectic, cosy space at Moi Moi by Luke Nguyen.

Given the chef’s popular credentials, we weren’t surprised to find a packed house during the opening weeks of the restaurant, located in the Nexxus Building’s ground-floor space, formerly occupied by Viet Kitchen. The chic space is vibrant and colourful, with turquoise green and red the dominant colours throughout, mixed with light wood from the flooring to the geometric ceiling panels. With little natural light available, bright lighting floods the restaurant, creating a cheery and cosy destination in an otherwise drab commercial building.

Moi Moi serves a distinctly different menu for lunch and dinner, choosing to focus on street snacks, banh mi and pho during the lunch rush; and more substantial dishes such as smoked duck breast, steamed sea bass, and lemongrass wagyu beef for dinner service.

Post image Related: Review: Japanese gardens and edible art at the new Tate Dining Room & Bar

Most of Nguyen’s dishes stem from old family recipes, and there are more than a few gems on the menu to cement Moi Moi (meaning “welcome”) as one of the city’s solid Vietnamese offerings. The lunch set rotates seasonally (HK$168 for a starter and main course, plus HK$28 for dessert), while dinner offers a more refined à la carte menu or a tasting menu of signature dishes priced at HK$428 per person (plus HK$258 for wine pairing).

Crunchy spring rolls transport diners to the streets of Vietnam.

From the lunch menu, we’d recommend the Vietnamese netted spring rolls for a starter — crunchy parcels packed with a flavourful filling of minced pork, tiger prawns, crab meat, wood ear mushrooms, taro and glass noodles. These substantial spring rolls are topped with crispy shallots, chopped herbs and fresh lettuce cups to balance out the fried component. Dip the rolls in the accompanying fish sauce and you have the best of Vietnamese street snacks in one mouthful — salty, sweet, sour and spicy.

The fresh spring rolls are more generic, filled with prawns, bean sprouts and herbs with a peanut sauce on the side, but nonetheless a good option for those craving something lighter during the lunch hour. The third starter is a green mango salad, featuring chunks of sweet Australian spanner crab and the clever addition of rambutans for a fruity, juicy pop to contrast with crispy shallots and tangy strips of julienned carrots and green mango.

A simple set lunch, featuring fresh spring rolls and Moi Moi’s signature wagyu beef pho, is priced at HK$168 per person.

For the main, you can choose between wagyu or salmon pho, a vermicelli noodle bowl with sugarcane prawn mousse, banh mi, or slow-roasted free-range chicken. The wagyu beef broth is wonderfully balanced with the aromatic spices of cinnamon, clove and star anise, rounded out with tender strips of both thick-cut and thin-cut meat, and fresh herbs and bean sprouts. We appreciated the light yet deep flavour of the broth, and the chewy, handmade noodles were a definite plus. With its assortment of pickled veggies inside a crunchy-soft baguette, the banh mi would make an excellent lunch on-the-go, although we found the chargrilled pork patties to be a bit dry on our visit.

Dinner options are significantly more varied, with everything from grilled seafood to wok-fried meat to dedicated vegetarian options to appeal to the discerning diner. Starters include salt and pepper silken tofu with crispy ginger and citrus soy; “Aunty 5’s Rice Cakes”, which are topped with tiger prawns, caramelised pork neck and pork floss; and the green tea-smoked duck breast tossed in a salad of banana blossoms, perilla leaves and pickled veggies.

Vegetarians can dig into a special selection of dishes at Moi Moi, including the salt and pepper silken tofu with crispy ginger and citrus soy.

For mains, seafood lovers can try the whole fried yellowtail snapper, served with green mango and ginger nuoc cham; or the chargrilled Australian split prawns with lemongrass, chilli, garlic and a sticky fish sauce caramel. From the meat offerings, the twice-cooked free-range chicken is wonderful, first cooked sous-vide with a lemongrass and miso marinade, and then finished on the grill. The quick flash on the grill captures the flavour in the crispy, juicy skin, while the meat remains tender and moist within.

The crisp, whole-fried snapper is a sight to behold, served with a a green mango and ginger nuoc cham.

Desserts range from an avocado tart with shiso and honeycomb to crispy banana fritters served with tapioca pudding, coconut ice cream and palm sugar caramel. For lunch-goers, you’ll want to end the meal with an excellent Vietnamese coffee for a strong kick of caffeine before heading back to the office grind.

Moi Moi by Luke Nguyen, Lobby, Nexxus Building, 41 Connaught Road, Central, Hong Kong, +852 2808 1086, moimoi.hk