Hanoi – An exquisite Vietnamese experience…

 

Vietnamese cuisine, considered to be one of the healthiest cuisines worldwide, is greatly admired for it’s minimal use of oil and the delicate balance between fresh herbs, meat & selective choice of spices to reach a fine flavor and taste. It’s been around in Bangalore for many years but only slowly gaining popularity of late, because of  the well traveled admirers of the extended Pan Asian cuisine. My own first experience with Vietnamese cuisine was not very encouraging so I won’t blame you if you don’t like it the first time either. However it makes a lot of difference if there is someone who can guide you through this fine cuisine and recommend what you can or should try based on your palate preferences. We got exactly this in the form of Nirav Rajani and Diep Vu, the lovely couple who are passionate about Vietnamese cuisine and have opened Hanoi so that we can experience the same.

Located on the First floor in Phoenix Market City, it is a very tastefully done restaurant. The ambiance has a french-european influence and is quite warm & cozy with combo of wooden as well as dark stone finish flooring.

What catches your attention first as you settle down, is the duo of sauces which I was told can be added to most of their dishes to enhance the flavor. Normally there is the flavored sweet and sour fish sauce, but since Vegetarians also need a sauce, they have added a Soy based sauce also to the rack.  Then arrives a basket of pearly white potato starch crisps with trio of yummy dipping sauces namely, sesame, peanut and soy. Again the idea here is to taste the crisps with these sauces and appreciate the flavor that these sauces can add to your dishes.

This review of mine is based on a series of 3 visits to Hanoi, so provides a low down on a variety of dishes that I sampled and tried during these visits.

Let’s start right at the beginning..

The Soups !

The Pumpkin Prawn Soup (Sup tom bi do) is a creamy orange pumpkin soup mixed with fish sauce and succulent prawns. I’ve had pumpkin soups many times before but this is the first time I had a Vietnamese version with fish sauce and prawns and I think it’s a match made in heaven. That slightly pungent salty flavor of fish sauce with the prawns give another dimension to the earthy sweet pumpkin soup.

Next the Sour Soup (Cahn Chua) is a sweet and sour soup with tamarind, pineapple, okra, small fillets of cat fish and fish sauce. First time I’m seeing Pineapple and Okra in a soup and I think these ingredients wed together quite well to create a unique sweet, sour and salty flavor. Have a spoonful with a slice of pineapple, okra and cat fish and its just bursting with flavors. Loved it 🙂 We also tried a veg version of the same soup and that was quite good as well though that extra punch from the fish sauce and the cat fish is missing there 😉

Now moving on to starters,

Let me clarify at the onset, Nope…we did not have the famous Vietnamese Rice paper rolls yet 🙂 There were so many other things on the menu that caught our eye, so we wandered that way. My personal favorites on the non veg side are the sublime Five Spice Basa and the Betel Leaf Wraps with minced Beef/Chicken. On the veg front, it is the stuffed Vietnamese pancakes and the fried half moon dumplings. The five spice basa and the betel leaf wraps must be had generously drizzled with the sweet fish sauce and the veg ones with the soy based sauce 🙂

They don’t serve alcohol yet but have a good selection of mocktails. I recommend the chili ginger punch served with a bird’s eye chili garnish in a martini glass. Sweet, tangy and the hot after-taste from the ginger n chili is a nice flavor profile. I also happened to try out one of their experimental new Basil Orange Cooler which is yet to be fine-tuned and christened. Loved it and was happy to give my feedback and inputs on the same.

Next up, the main course,

Hanoi offers a multitude of main course options. If you would like to try their signature authentic dishes, you should go for the Pho, Hot-pots, Crab, Lobster or Lamb/Pork Chops. If you would like something closer to home, go for their fusion dishes such as coconut rice, massaman curry, viet curry etc which are equally flavorsome but fusion rather than authentic Vietnamese. Pho and Hot pots are both broth based dishes served in a bowl with rice noodles but heavy enough to be had as a main.

The Chili Tamarind Crab is a dish to behold! And definitely for the brave ones who don’t mind getting their hands dirty and fight for that yummy crab-meat. Succulent red fresh water crab is steamed and gently tossed in their signature sweet tangy and spicy chili tamarind sauce. Loved the crab meat with the sauce 🙂

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Lau Thai – Seafood

Lau Thai is an adapted, spicier version of the classic Vietnamese Hot pot. Created more for the Indian palate, it has Thai Tom Yum flavors. The idea of a hotpot is basically a boiling pot of broth on your table in which you cook or stew various assorted fresh ingredients like Rice Noodles, Crunchy Veggies, Mushrooms, Tofu/Chicken/Beef/Assorted Seafood. I had a seafood version in which we added assorted fresh vegetables, sweet corn, mushrooms, clams, squid, prawns, fish and finally rice noodles to the piping hot broth. You allow it to cook for a few minutes and then it can be ladled out into individual soup bowls to savor. Oh!! the flavor of the cooked lau thai seafood hot pot is heavenly. A very healthy and hearty meal for a family of 3-4 easily 🙂

Last but not the least, the desserts ! No meal can be complete without them and more so if they are as varied and flavorsome as the ones served in Hanoi.

The crunchy sweet banana fritters with the sweet coconut cream dip is a must try. Another thing you should not miss if you are an ice cream fan, is their amazing collection of natural flavored gourmet ice-creams hand crafted by their chef. I sampled a whole platter with the following flavors : Betel Leaf, Green Tea, Lemongrass, Coconut-Rose, Cinnamon-Apple, Fig-Red Wine and Basil. Loved the Lemongrass, Cinnamon-Apple and Redwine-Fig the best. Betel Leaf and Coconut flavors are also quite nice. Green tea and Basil flavors are good but acquired taste in my opinion.

Service is good and prompt but probably has room for improvement from a fine-dining training/knowledge perspective, but Nirav and Diep more than make up for it by their own personal involvement with the guests 🙂

All in all, a great place for satiating your love for Vietnamese cuisine and a must try for the first timers who want a guided tour of this exquisite cuisine 🙂

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