Ignoring doubts that a gastronomic restaurant could work here, T.U.N.G Dining opened in mid-December 2018. A short walk from Hanoi’s St. Joseph’s Cathedral, the restaurant serves an 18-course tasting menu that’s uniquely rich in textures and flavours.
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It’s Hoang Tung’s 27th birthday. But T.U.N.G Dining’s head chef and co-founder brushes that off quickly. He’d rather talk about food. Good food.
For the economics graduate from the South-Eastern Finland University of Applied Sciences, that means taking something simple and making something extraordinary from it. Like at Ask, Filip Langhoff’s acclaimed Helsinki restaurant, where he used to work. Or at the Telegraaf Hotel in Talinn, Estonia – another of his culinary experiences – that showed him how a hotel restaurant could consistently be regarded as one of Europe’s best. Or Kiin Kiin, the Michelin-starred Thai restaurant in Copenhagen where he also worked. Kiin Kiin showed him how fine dining techniques could be applied to Southeast Asian cuisine.
Co-incidentally, Hoang Tung and the other three co-founders opened T.U.N.G. Dining in mid-December 2018, when the chef was 26. That’s the same age as chef Dak Laddaporn when she joined Kiin Kiin. That restaurant went on to become the first Michelin-starred Thai restaurant outside of Thailand in the world.
T.U.N.G Stands For Twisted, Unique, Natural, Gastronomique
Besides the name of the head chef, T.U.N.G also represents the restaurant’s philosophy: Twisted, Unique, Natural, Gastronomique.
Bringing the philosophy to life is T.U.N.G Dining’s minimalist menu. Scanning through the eighteen courses leaves lots to the imagination. “And that’s the idea,” Tung smiles enigmatically. Part I (which arrives all at once) is five dishes: Yoghurt and Gin, Hamachi and Marscapone, Salmon and Caviar, Prawn and Grapefruit, Asparagus and Brown Butter.
And the style at T.U.N.G. Dining continues through the nine courses in Part II and through four desserts in Part III “to arouse curiosity and leave us lots of room to play around” the chef explains.
Right now there’s no lunch (Tung says it’s to protect T.U.N.G Dining’s philosophy and concept). There’s only this eighteen-course set dinner that changes seasonally. “The next menu will be in December when we’ll change everything. Now is an autumn feel, and in winter we’ll introduce more root vegetables for example,” the chef says. “But the difference is not just with the ingredients, it’s with the feeling, so a summer menu should feel fresh, and the techniques should emphasise that, and the same in autumn – we have a dish with ginger sauce in liquid nitrogen that we serve with beetroot that has this really autumnal feel.”
There are other unusual elements at T.U.N.G Dining too, like the juice and beer pairings. “I’m a beer drinker and beer pairings are common in Scandinavia,” Tung shrugs. The concept is giving T.U.N.G. Dining the chance to showcase lots of Vietnamese craft beers, “Furbrew, Pasteur Street, Thơm…” Juice pairings are common in Scandinavia too. During dinner the waiting team introduce each like a wine, breaking down its ingredients and tasting notes. “I guess this is quite controversial,” Tung laughs mischievously.
How Kitchen Shifts In Europe Turned Into T.U.N.G Dining
Hoang Tung took part-time jobs in kitchens around his university while he was studying – basic things like being a kitchen helper. Even though he describes the places as “very normal” the experience developed his passion for food. “Then when I graduated, I set my sights on the big hitters – gastronomic restaurants with Michelin stars.
First was Ask, the Helsinki restaurant that’s now in ‘hibernation’. Then the Telegraaf Hotel in Tallinn. And then Kiin Kiin, where all the ideas came together. “They’re famous for their frozen red curry with lobster and avocado where the lobster and avocado are served on a bowl of ice. And it’s topped with quenelle of red curry ice cream and lychee foam.
“They’re super innovative. Everything blows your mind,” Tung says. They even play around with their fish sauce. “Normally in Asia there’s sweet and sour fish sauce – nuoc cham or nuoc mam – with lime juice and sugar. But there, for the fish sauce, they use lime juice only but then they use candy floss that flops down that creates the sweet element…”
The Eighteen Course T.U.N.G Dining Menu
Right up until opening the T.U.N.G Dining team planned to offer an à la carte menu. “I tried to do à la carte,” Tung laughs. Two weeks before opening the team reconvened. “I’d spoken to Long, our maître d’ and co-founder who used to work at Restaurant André in Singapore, and said we need to do a tasting menu…” T.U.N.G Dining’s four founders agreed with some reservations. Those doubts came from outside too. “Everyone told us that it couldn’t work.”
They hoped for more than five guests a day in the 33-seat restaurant to hit their base target. But they’ve been booked out almost since day one. And after eating dinner here, it’s clear why.
The five dish Part I begins with a literal bang – spheres of Yoghurt and Gin that explode when the delicate membrane bursts like the ones served at Gaggan Bangkok. It’s a hint at the textural complexity that’s to come.
In Part II, the standout dish, King Prawn and Mussel, pops with salmon roe on a rich beurre blanc sauce with hints of lemongrass from which the prawn and mussels emerge. And the pea puree adds a little acidity.
By the time the four-dessert Part III starts, you’re completely convinced this is both the most exciting dining experience in Vietnam today and that there’s a lot more to come from this team.
Photos by Khooa Nguyen.