Step towards the light: Green Mango on Cat Ba island offers some of the best Western food in the area.
Bring the party: Over 75 people made their way to Cat Ba for Green Mango’s fourth anniversary party, which featured a multi-course menu and live music.
Green Mango Cat Ba
Address: Group 19, Clock 4, 1-4 Street, Cat Ba Town
Tel: 0988 681 208
Hours: 10 am to close
Price: VND60,000 to 180,000
Notes: The best spot to rock in Cat Ba
Green Mango Cat Ba celebrates 4 years
Christine Grimard heads to Cat Ba to learn the secrets behind Green Mango Restaurant’s four years of success.
Walking along the seaside road in downtown Cat Ba, one passes the usual sites of any Vietnamese tourist destination. Street vendors selling pearls and water guns, coffee shops set up under tarps, plastic chairs lined up by rank at restaurants with illustrated menus. But at the centre of the chaos lies a rather unusual site of plush velvet pillows sitting on charming wicker furniture, surrounding glass top tables topped with decorative lamps. The charming site of the Green Mango restaurant seems almost a mirage among the generic decor of most Vietnamese establishments.
What made this particular restaurant stand out even more on June 19 were the crowds of ex-pats packing both the inside and out, as live music burst through the walls. Over 75 people had made their way to the island to celebrate with owner Nguyen Thanh Hai, the restaurant’s fourth anniversary.
“The first time I went there I loved it,” said Hai about why he chose to set up a restaurant in Cat Ba now four years ago. “It’s like a small Hong Kong with sea front restaurants.”
After a first restaurant venture which he eventually sold to his partner Bobby Chinn, now the popular institution on Ba Trieu Street, Hai was looking at setting up in Ha Noi but was told by a friend to look into Cat Ba.
“I met this guy from New York State, he said not to do Ha Noi. He directed me to Cat Ba, he said he’d been there many times and there were no western-style restaurants.”
So, Hai packed up his wife and child and moved the family out to Cat Ba to try his hand at opening his own place. He spent two years there with his family setting up the menu and training the staff at Green Mango. Having since hired a manager, he says the place now runs itself, giving him time to manage the Ha Noi location he opened just last October.
What you get
Hai’s sea side restaurant offers not just a great view, but probably some of the best Western food you could find on the island. Whether you’re craving a simple juicy burger or classic fish and chips, the upscale crowd lamb shank or sesame encrusted Ahi-tuna, the restaurant offers an impressive menu of various dishes along with limited Vietnamese choices.
With the restaurant surrounded by Vietnamese venues, it’s probably not the best choice for genuine Vietnamese cuisine or fresh sea food. For the real cultural experience, it’s probably best to take a seat on the plastic chairs. But for a guaranteed good meal and a break from the local sea food, Green Mango is probably one of the safest bets on the island.
With prices starting at VND70,000 for a main meal, and the most expensive choices topping VND200,000, it’s not a bargain either, but is comparable with most seafood restaurants in the area. Drinks are also reasonably priced, with nightly happy hour making them that much better. Thanks to Hai’s training, you can trust his staff to make a descent cocktail.
Celebrating in style
Although he’s been busy with his Ha Noi location, Hai made the trip back for the fourth anniversary celebration, that featured a luscious six-course menu and wine, all for US$20.
With two choices for every course, the menu was impressive to say the least, mixing picks from his regular menu along with special treats.
Hai said he served up 76 pre-set menus that night, as he scurried around managing the place and helping out in the kitchen. Having trained as a chef in Vung Tau, Hai says he always helps out in the kitchen when it gets too hectic.
“If it’s busy I jump in and take the grill section. I say, ‘give me the hardest part’ and it’s always the grill. Cooking things rare, medium-rare, it’s very tricky.”
In fact, Hai has been in the kitchen less and less these days as he works to promote his restaurants.
“At the moment I’m doing public relations, but I’m not very good at it,” said Hai.
With the raging success of his Cat Ba party, and a recent Sex and the City night that packed his Ha Noi restaurant so much that cosmo-sipping ladies had to sit on the floor, Hai is being modest in playing down his promotion abilities. Developing a network of expat friends, Hai’s reputation has started to preceed him.
“He’s basically a switched on business entrepreneur who knows how to throw great parties,” said Christine Andrews, a marketing manager at Buffalo Tours who helped sponsor the Cat Ba event. “[He] spots PR opportunities a mile away, and really looks after his guests.”
While many businesses in the country are struggling to find out what foreigners are looking for, Hai has gone straight to the source in getting ex-pats involved in events. Charlie Williams, a 25-year old ex-pat from Australia who volunteered behind the bar at the Cat Ba party, said he couldn’t be happier to help Hai out.
“Hai was fantastic all night,” said Williams. “In between making everyone feel comfortable and flashing his ready smile, he even found time to cook up a storm in the kitchen.”
Ben Cole, a Ha Noi-based entrepreneur also from Australia, agreed with Williams that Hai’s great attitude and networking skills are certainly helping his business.
“Mr Hai is the ultimate networker,” said Cole. “At big events a lot of hosts get caught up in the stress of hosting. Mr Hai does not fall into this trap, he makes sure he is always looking relaxed and positive.”
Hai certainly seemed to enjoy himself along with the crowd of nearly a hundred that gathered at his Cat Ba Green Mango restaurant the night of the party. With the Van Ho Ba band belting out a storm and the crowd dancing the night away, it couldn’t have been that hard.
“People made it happen, I really appreciate it,” said Hai of his anniversary party success.
Now the big question is, what tricks does Hai have up his sleeve for the local expat community? With the first anniversary coming up for the Green Mango location in Ha Noi, Hai says there’s a lot to look forward to, although he wouldn’t reveal any details yet, but promised, “It’s going to be big.” — VNS