Sunday, 16/10/2022 09:41

Mediterraneo really is s-miles better than most

Filetto di branzino lardato - seabass served with clams. Photos courtesy of Mediterraneo

Paul Kennedy

The phrase ‘service with a smile’ originated from the 1961 book of the same name by P.G. Wodehouse.

This comic novel chronicles the lives, and love lives, of England’s elite who backstab and scheme in a desperate bid to get their hands on a prize-winning pig.

If you’ve not read it, you should. It’s a hoot.

Today, the book’s title is synonymous with best practice in the working environment, particularly in the service industry.

Sadly, service with a smile isn’t something that can often be said about dining experiences at some restaurants in Hà Nội.

Now, I’m not talking about the side of the road local joints operated by women with beaming grins delighted at your presence, I’m on about some of the so-called higher-end establishments where servers seem as pleased to see you as a visit from the tax man.

A smile goes a hell of a long way in making a dining experience that little bit more pleasant. I understand tipping isn’t necessarily mandatory in Việt Nam, but a smile shouldn’t cost you a penny.

That’s why my recent trip to Mediterraneo Italian restaurant, a stone’s throw from Sword Lake, was extra special.

From the moment I arrived, until the bill was paid, I was warmly welcomed, and served, by one of, if not the, nicest server I’ve ever encountered.

Her name is Ha.

She was fun, knowledgeable, attentive, and best of all, had a smile the size of Sword Lake.

Risotto ai porcini, mushroom risotto.

The food itself was fantastic, but to be honest, if Ha would have served me a bowl of lukewarm gruel it wouldn’t have mattered. She was that good.

I opted for olive all’ ascolana to start, stuffed olives coated in breadcrumbs (VNĐ180,000). Delicious, no other word for it.

Sadly, I decided to share the antipasto with my guest, big mistake. They were simply too good to share and I made a mental note for my next visit.

For main I decided to go outside of the box. Instead of a pasta dish I thought I’d try something different, and I was glad I did.

Filetto di branzino lardato - seabass served with clams (VNĐ410,000).

Having been a tad disappointed at my decision to share our starter, I was glad this bad boy was for me, and me alone.

The seabass was cooked to perfection. Flaky texture that melted in my mouth. Perfect.

I’m not one who normally goes for shellfish, but I was glad I did. The clams were bursting with flavour and the perfect partner for the seabass.

Boy there was a lot of it, but there was no way I was returning my plate in any other state than empty.

My guest for the evening picked an old favourite, risotto ai porcini, mushroom risotto (VNĐ310,000). It’s easy to say that you can’t go wrong with risotto, but speaking from personal experience, I’ve tried to make this dish myself, and believe me, it can go wrong.

Thankfully, the chef at Mediterraneo is clearly an awful lot better than me. It was creamy, without going OTT, and with just enough bite on the rice.

As for the restaurant itself, if you’ve not visited, you should. Its location is clearly geared towards the many tourists visiting the capital city, but for such a quality establishment in a prime location, it has a distinctly relaxed feel to it.

We were seated upstairs, close to the shuttered doors that led to a balcony. As the early evening weather was just right, the doors were open, letting in just enough of a cool breeze.

So as far as Italian restaurants go, Mediterraneo is up there with the best of them in Hà Nội. But what puts this place on top of the pile, is the service, and in particular Ha, making Mediterraneo s-miles better than the rest.

Olive all’ ascolana, stuffed olives coated in breadcrumbs.

Nhà hàng Mediterraneo

Address: 23 Nhà Thờ St, Hàng Trống, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội

Comment: Good service with a beaming smile

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