On the cusp of opening a new restaurant in the Bullring, we caught up with the driving force behind Vietnamese Street Kitchen, Oliver Ngo
Tell us about your cooking
My style is simple, fresh ingredients done in a street food style. It’s traditional Vietnamese street food, but with a British twist. I don’t want to scare people with something like chicken’s feet, so toned down Vietnamese food from that point of view, but still full of fresh vibrant flavours. Food has always been big in my family and recipes have been passed down through the generations.
How did you become a chef?
I kind of fell into cooking. I worked in front of house for a while then took a job in the kitchen at District One in Putney which is a Vietnamese street food restaurant. I just fell in love with cooking. I’d always loved eating and trying different flavour combinations, but when I experienced life in the kitchen my eyes were opened. It was always dynamic – the early morning shifts baking bao buns and fresh baguettes, the marinating, grilling and brining of the meat for maximum tenderness and flavour. It was exciting.
What do you eat when at home?
Honestly, Vietnamese food – I just love it or an Indian curry.
Who’s the best chef in the world and why? And who’s the best in Brum?
The best chef in the world is Jamie Oliver. A British guy taking on another country’s cuisine is brave and some might not agree with the authenticity, but I appreciate adapting to suit a market. I can’t say the best chef in Birmingham, but the restaurant I love more than any other is Ken Ho next to the Hippodrome. The service is – let’s say – not amazing, but the food is 10 out of 10. It’s being refurbished at the moment, but I cannot wait to go again.
Is the customer always right?
No. If you want to please everyone, you please no-one. You have to be confident and think ‘this is what we offer. This is our food’.
Share a cooking tip
Use the freshest ingredients you can.
What was your favourite food as a kid?
Banh Mi which is essentially a French baguette – there’s a lot of French influence in Vietnam. The baguette is filled with pate, ham, pickled carrot, mayo. The flavour profile is spot on. The way the ham is marinated, the pickled tones. It’s amazing. Try it!
Food heaven and food hell?
Heaven is a well-made traditional Balti curry with fresh naan. Hell is anything bland with no flavour.
What’s the most unusual thing you’ve eaten?
On a trip to Vietnam, I ate a beating snake’s heart in vodka. It just tasted of vodka and slipped straight down.
If you weren’t a chef, what would you be?
A stand-up comedian. I like instant feedback, so I think that would be good.
What do you recommend from this evening’s menu?
The hot sweetie chicken wings.