‘What we serve there is pure joy’

The food draws on all elements of Asian cuisine. Each restaurant sets its own accent – and demonstrates a sure sense of presentation. MPULSE interviews multi-restaurateur The Duc Ngo. Part 1.

893 Ryōtei makes a rather uninviting first impression – and that’s the twist. ‘The outside of the place was so ugly, I thought: let’s play with that,’ explains The Duc Ngo. 893 stands for the worthless in society, and Ryōtei for fine gastronomy. Behind the messy facade, exquisite Asian cuisine awaits.
The Duc Ngo in front of his restaurant 893 Ryōtei

Über The Duc Ngo

Born in 1974 in Hanoi, Vietnam, he fled with his mother and brother to Berlin in 1979. In 1999, he opened his first restaurant there. Today, The Duc Ngo operates 17 gastronomic establishments – a half-dozen around Kantstraße in Berlin’s Charlottenburg district and others in Frankfurt and Saint-Tropez.

MPULSE: Inflation, Covid, energy prices … with 17 restaurants and a constantly expanding business, what’s your take on the question of entrepreneurial risk?

The Duc Ngo: These things don’t often keep me up at night – because I’m sure I’ll make it through this one way or another. After all, I started with nothing. When we came from Vietnam, we didn’t have a thing. My mother didn’t have anything, I didn’t have anything. And I know that as long as my health allows, I’ll always be able to work somehow. I’m just not a fearful type of person. When I first try something out, I’m not thinking about the money.

But it takes some time to get to that point, doesn’t it?

Sure, when I was starting out 20 years ago, it was different. Today, all of my restaurants are a mixed calculation. There are dishes that bring in money, and others that I just make, regardless – where I don’t worry about the cost. I feel rich when I have a dish in front of me and I know: you won’t find anything better than that. That’s essential to me: the best available product, superbly prepared. At 893 Ryōtei, I serve scallops, for example. The purchasing price for just one is €7. But they’re so good, you almost want to cry.

And you prepare them yourself?

I have super employees, of course, but yeah, I cook things like that myself often enough. When Jean Reno came to 893 Ryōtei, I cooked myself. When he came back the very next day, I knew we must have done something right.

Yet ironically, 893 Ryōtei doesn’t exactly make an inviting first impression.

(laughs) The outside of the place was so ugly, I thought: let’s play with that. People stand in front of it and wonder – really, this is it? And inside, they’re amazed again, because what’s waiting for them there is the finest Asian cuisine. 893 stands for ‘the worthless’, the marginalised in society. Ryōtei stands for fine gastronomy. What we serve there is pure joy.

Pulpo a la Vera by The Duc Ngo

Pulpo a la Vera by The Duc Ngo; Photo John Bauer

Pulpo a la Vera

Tomato sauce

  • 500 g cherry tomatoes, either fresh or peeled and canned
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 4 shallots, finely sliced
  • 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 100 ml dry white wine
  • 2 tbsp Pimentón de la Vera (smoked paprika powder)
  • 4 thyme sprigs
  • 4 rosemary sprigs
  • 2 basil sprigs
  • 4 bay leaves

Sauté the garlic and shallots with the paprika powder in the extra virgin olive oil. Add salt, pepper and sugar (to taste) and the white wine. Allow the wine to reduce completely. Then add the tomatoes.
Place the thyme, rosemary, basil and bay leaves in a herb bag and put the bag in the tomato sauce. Cook the sauce for another 10 to 12 minutes, then let it simmer for another hour with the herbs. Taste.

Salsa verde

  • 1 bunch coriander
  • 1 bunch parsley
  • 1 bunch basil
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 green chillies
  • 50 g peeled ginger
  • 50 ml lemon juice
  • 350 ml extra virgin olive oil

Mix the garlic cloves, ginger and chillies with lemon juice, salt, pepper and sugar in a blender. Then add the herbs and the olive oil and mix them in gradually. Season to taste.

Serve

Put 4 tbsp tomato sauce in a soup plate. Sear 2 cooked octopus arms in the pan and slice them into pieces approx. 2 cm wide. Place them on the tomato sauce. Distribute 2 tbsp of salsa verde over the octopus. Dust with Pimentón de la Vera (smoked paprika powder). For an elegant touch, garnish with a fresh lime wedge and coriander.

Even the menu looks like it’s been randomly stuck there. Where do you come up with an idea like that?

My business partner and best friend, Hyunjung Kim, has a knack for that. She makes me and my restaurants better. I figure out what statement the food concept should make, and she knows how to stage and spotlight it.

Is there anything that you would never do?

I wouldn’t do some rubbish just to make money. If a fast-food chain came and asked me to create a burger for them, it would have to be a premium burger that lived up to my idea of quality.

And what do you still dream of doing?

You could say that with Le Duc, which we’re planning to open in mid-2023, I’m making a kind of dream come true. It’s going to be a first-class fine-dining restaurant – and yeah, striving for a star is also part of it. I can imagine your first star sparks a certain ambition to go for more. But then, I like challenges. (grins)

With 17 restaurants, how much The Duc Ngo is actually part of each one?

It’s all The Duc Ngo – just in different variations. With my restaurants, I pursue various concepts and offer something for every occasion, from the everyday to the really luxurious. My people give shape to that, according to my vision, but they also have plenty of latitude – and in fact I look for chefs who bring their own personality and passion to the work. I’m also at my best when I’m freestyling.

Go to the second part of the interview.👇👇

The Duc Ngo in front of his restaurant 893 Ryōtei

‘Courage reaps rewards’

17 restaurants from Berlin to Saint-Tropez: multi-restaurateur The Duc Ngo in an interview about success in gastronomy - part two.

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