5Ku Station, a kind of movable feast-maker; a restaurant that settles into vacant lots, fires up the grill and dishes out beef and beer to the waiting masses, though the one at Le Thanh Ton shows every sign of becoming a permanent movable restaurant.
5Ku was started almost five years ago by Thien Dinh, the founder, who had been involved in several ventures together before finding this successful formula.
I’ve been a fan of the 5Ku for years. It’s great for parties and get-togethers, with plenty of good eats at a reasonable price, and a cheerfully loud, even festive atmosphere. I try to approach it fresh this time, coming with my fiancée and a good friend of ours.
We’re seated at one of the low tables, and of course I bang my knees into it. The restaurant has a certain booming charm, from the graffiti art on the walls to the plain but sturdy furnishings. To me, however, the real charm lies in the intangibles of the atmosphere; everyone there is having a good time, and it’s noisy from people talking and laughing, not painfully over-loud music.
Meat and Beer
The first order is obvious — bottles of Saigon beer (VND19,000) all around to lubricate the process of ordering. We go through the menu with more care than usual, aiming to order an aesthetically balanced supper. 5Ku offers a lot of food, from simple grilled meat to expansive hot-pots. Prices are fair, though bills can mount if you order like I do.
We start with mango 5Ku salad (VND99,000) — we are warned that it’s perhaps not to Western tastes, but proceed anyway. I love it — the mango is just balanced on tart and sweet, and the mix of greens and meats that comes with it is a nice balance.
Next up is slices of ostrich meat (VDN125,000), grilled at the table. The ostrich is lean and tender, reminiscent of beef in its taste. Along with the ostrich comes shrimp roasted with salt (VND169,000) which are a mess to peel but excellent after a dip in lime juice, salt and pepper.
We finish the order with a rousing dish of frog ‘sapo’ stewed (VND169,000), served in a spicy, tangy sauce. Normally, I don’t like frog — it often combines the worst parts of fish and chicken — but 5Ku does it well. The meat is tender, and the sauce complements the flavour very well.
Service is catch-as-catch-can, and given how busy the place always is, it’s understandable. But be prepared to shout “Em oi!” any time you want to order more food or another beer. That said, the service is speedy, and the waiters are willing to help hapless grillers cook their food.
Younger, Hipper BBQ
5Ku is the younger, hipper version of the standard Vietnamese BBQ place, with a few touches and a location that makes it more popular with Westerners. It’s actually a decent place to meet other expats and tourists alike — I’ve met an Australian rugby team, a lovely Japanese couple, and a Turkish family.
If you’re the social type, that diversity alone makes it worthwhile to visit. For foodies like me, the food is the thing. Vietnamese BBQ is fun and tasty, though there’s one drawback I’ve yet to mention. Whether you’re at 5Ku or any other place, you’ll go home saturated with the scent of charcoal and cooking pork.
5Ku is located at 27 Le Thanh Ton, Q1, HCMC and is open from 4pm to late. Photos by Bao Zoan