This place was doing brisk business even on a cold and damp Wednesday evening. No doubt the lure a hot and hearty bowl of beef pho was attracting customers. I was certainly what I was thinking of when I rolled up the escalator, but after I had got settled at a table and the menu in my hand I began to have other thoughts.
It’s a pleasant place. The decor is in a French colonial style with pale greens an white. It is elegant but not over done. The menu also boasts hints of the country’s colonial as well as offering the occasional not to its Southeast Asian neighbours.
I sent the waitress off with an order for a plate of Ban Mi Chien Tom, or prawn toast ($48) and a bottle of 39 Saigon Porter ($30) and took my time reading the rest of the menu.
All the familiar dishes are represented, bowls of pho, spring rolls both hot and cold and stuffed chicken wings. But there were also a number of regional dishes that are less frequently seen and I was keen to try a couple of these. So as the waitress delivered the prawn toast is despatched her a second time. This time for an order of Ban Hoi Ga Nuong, vermicelli cake with grilled chicken ($48) and Cha Ca Hanoi, Fried fish with dill ($128).
While I waited for those to be prepared I tucked into the shrimp toast. This is basically ground shrimp mixed with garlic, spread onto slices of baguette and, usually, fried – but I think this version may have been grilled. These are then dipped into a puddle of nuoc cham dipping sauce.
The other two dishes were delivered together. The vermicelli cakes are made from layers of the fine noodle pressed flat and drained. Along with the chicken they are served with fresh mint an a pile of lettuce leaves. The abundance of lettuce usually indicates that you are to wrap the other items inside a leaf and make little parcels of food so this is what I did. No-one came to tell me I was doing it all wrong so I suspect I was on the right track. Though I clearly need more practice at wrapping things in lettuce.
The fish, as the name would suggest, is a popular dish in Hanoi. It consists of tender cubes of fish rolled in bread crumbs and fried with dill and onions. It really would have gone well with a bowl of rice but since I already had quite a lot of food I decided to skip rice. Never-the-less it won my heart and I shall be heading back for another helping very soon.
I finished off with a white chocolate Creme Brulee ($38) and, feeling suitably fortified, headed back into the cold night air.