Hoi An’s celebrated Mango Rooms has earned international renown but it sometimes polarises opinion with its adventurous fusion of culinary styles. Some believe they’ve had one of the greatest dining experiences ever; others are disappointed. Ultimately, everyone should see for themselves whether Mango Rooms can deliver the culinary experience of a lifetime or not.
Celebrity chef Duc Tran’s first Hoi An restaurant, Mango Rooms, opened in 2004. It’s a riot of bold calypso colours – red, yellow, lime green – in a dark, cool setting nestling between Nguyen Thai Hoc and the river. We ate a light lunch near the riverside entrance, fishing boats straining against the tide just metres away on the dazzling Thu Bon River.
A starter, ‘Colonial Toasts’, referencing Vietnam’s time under French control, had a base of toasted baguette slices smeared with shrimp mousse circling an Asian, tropical combination of sweet mango in a coconut curry sauce. The ambitiously named Heaven and Earth Salad combined standard ingredients – tomato, lettuce, onion – with sweet basil and mustard sprouts, to form a bed for wonderfully tender beef strips that had been dressed in a passion, orange, mint sauce.
‘What a wonderful dance of flavour!’ exclaimed my companion after a mouthful of Heaven and Earth Salad but it was a little busy for me – the mustard and pepper flavours in the salad alongside the passion, orange, mint drizzle not quite coming off. But I swooned on tasting the beautifully sweet mango sitting in a bath of coconut, blended with traditional curry spices and onion.
The website describes Duc as wildly imaginative and to that I would add ‘fearless’ as well. Mango Rooms often uses fruit flavours in ways normally forbidden and treads where others won’t go.
For me, the truth is that we’re all much richer for Duc’s radically different approach and I’ll be back to continue the experiment (after I save up a bit).
There are very few candidates for ‘a culinary experience of a lifetime’ and, without taking risks, one rarely reaches great heights. At Mango Rooms, whatever happens, it will be memorable.