Restaurant review: Vee N Zed Fusion Kitchen, Wellington
The opening of Vee N Zed Fusion means there are now 27 Vietnamese food outlets in Wellington. Evidently seeking a point of difference, chef patron Can Van Cao has decided to mix Vietnamese with what he calls "Kiwi favourites".
But before we groan at the prospect of fish sauce in our pav, it's important to stress that chef Cao practises culinary apartheid: he offers Vietnamese pho on the one hand and Anglo-Celtic lamb pie on the other – and neither camp is allowed to sully the other except in minor, totally acceptable ways such as squirting good house-made aioli over the tom com.
I couldn't find any Google results for "tom com", but it is the deep-fried prawns crusted with green rice, made famous in Welly a few years back by Apache and later Annam. By inserting a wafer-thin slice of pork between the prawn and the crust, chef Cao nudges the flavour aesthetic left-field, to yum cha. Yum indeed.
When he sticks to what he knows best, Cao performs brilliantly. I so enjoyed his summer rolls with their clear flavours of fresh mint and coriander, while his pho fostered my growing addiction. Pho is thought to have derived from the French pot au feu in the 19th century, and certainly Westerners trying Vee N Zed Fusion's wholly faithful rendition for the first time will experience a welcome sense of familiarity. It is intense beef broth that's faintly spicy, but not hot. There's chilli sauce on the table for anybody who wants it.
I was sorely tempted to only eat Vietnamese here, but felt obliged to sample at least one dish from the globalised mish-mash on this menu, given "Kiwi favourites" account for 22 of the 33 entries. Tandoori chicken I discounted on the grounds that this kitchen possesses no tandoor in which to cook it. Chicken nuggets and fries are cheaper at McDonalds, while the Happy Fish Burger here is three times the price of a Fillet-o-Fish.
By default, I ended up with creamy chicken fettuccine, that marginally yicky relic of Reagan's America. Technically it was perfect: the fettuccine (Delmaine's, if I'm not mistaken) was al dente, the chicken tender. Aesthetically, it was a car crash only narrowly averted by using a light hand with two incongruous seasonings – Thai sweet chilli sauce and pesto. Plus I'm almost certain the industrial parmesan came ready-grated from a packet.
Vee N Zed Fusion takes over from Two Souls Bistro, which lasted better than its predecessors here in traffic-ridden Wakefield Street. Having inherited the fit-out from Two Souls, salt and pepper shakers and all, they've cunnningly reversed the colour scheme – from bright red walls and tired old wooden chairs, they now have shiny red-painted chairs and muted walls. (Red walls, some experimental psychologists are now suggesting, only rark up the regulars and cause fights!)
The service, led by Helen Cao, was unfailingly attentive. Did I want my want my com tom before my pho bo? (yes please) and I only had to sing out if I wanted more sauce. Noticing I was using my fork but not my knife to eat my fettuccine, a smiling waiter brought me a soup spoon, correctly guessing my preference.
This menu can of course be tweaked in future according to which dishes are ordered and which are not. I may not have been drawn to the Kiwi favourites, but that's just me; at the next table, each of the six strapping blokes was tucking into the same main – homemade gourmet lamb pie.
VEE N ZED FUSION KITCHEN
290 Wakefield St
Ph: 801 7661
Open: Tues-Sat for lunch, Mon-Sat for dinner
Price range of mains: $16-$24
Cost: $52 for two (excluding wine)
Wine list: ★★★