What It Is – Rau Ram is the newest brainchild of the Pun + Projects cohort. Styled as Southeast Asian bistro that exudes a distinct Indochine flair, the makers behind Rau Ram and Port Autonomy have nailed it. Well-heeled expats and locals, as well as your occasional high-end globetrotter are the target markets but Rau Ram has managed to keep prices pleasantly reasonable. To be sure, this will be a mainstay – albeit a more sophisticated extension of the Port Autonomy frat house.
Atmosphere – Named for the Vietnamese mint, the establishment could be from anywhere – Vietnam, Melbourne, New York, possibly even Havana with the Cuban music playing in the background. The painted green leaves on the wall are meant to simulate those of the Beverley Hills Hilton – but actually, T.I.M! (This Is Myanmar!). A neighbourhood blackout starkly reminds us we are in Yangon.
No matter: if anything, the conversation picks up in pitch black and the lessoning of one of our senses helps heighten our gustatory perception. Almost magically for the lack of light, Chef Kevin Ching manages to conjure up mango sticky rice and vanilla ice cream dressed in a scattering of thinly sliced and fragrant kaffir lime leaves. Neither I, nor the other patrons appear to care about the lack of lights when our food tastes this good.
Recommendations – The Hokkaido scallop crudo (K14,000) is an absolute standout. Moist scallop is contrasted with the thin fresh crunch of cucumber and married with a simple chilli oil and hint of pineapple.
The chicken liver and pork pate (K8,000) is a classically Vietnamese-French marriage brought to the table. The shredded chicken salad (K7,500) is distinctly Southeast Asian, with fresh pungent herbs, crunch salad leaves and a hearty dash of zesty lime that freshens and cleans the palate in prep for the next round. Our mains included khanom chin (K12,000), rice noodles and spicy coconut curry that is considered street food in Vietnam. It reminded me of a dry version of our own Mohinga. The root vegetable rendang (K11,000) is nothing short without the meat and was possibly my favourite dish all round. The beef brisket and oxtail stew (K12,000) of course fell of the bone. Discarding social etiquette and some grace, I proceeded to suck the marrow from the bone with my fingers and dip buttery garlic bread into the sauce.
Final Thoughts – Nothing has been spared in regards to attention to detail, right down to the chinosorie wallpaper that proprietor, Ivan Pun, hand delivered from Hong Kong. Even the menu is a beautiful replica of the hand-made design and adds that certain panache that is often missing in Yangon.
And there must be mention of Andre, the floor manager who is possibly the best in his trade anywhere in the world. His wandering eye doesn’t miss a beat and he often knows exactly what you want before you do. Andre also gets top points for serving our pina coladas (K6,000) in coconut mugs. Man, that guy is smooth.