Sunday, 14/08/2022 09:34

The Great Wall of Hà Nội


MEDLEY: Dim sum, vegetable chow mein, and ginger chicken. Photo by Nga Hoàng Thanh

 By Carlos Ottery

The concept of British-Chinese food is one that may leave the uninitiated in a state of mild terror and those more familiar with desperate cravings. The cuisines of the UK and China do not seem like obvious bedfellows, the starchy carb-rich offering of the Brits a million miles away from the peerless vegetable-laden dishes of the Chinese, both in geography and style.

Nevertheless, such restaurants are hugely popular in the UK, and those that report eating ‘a Chinese’ there at least once a week there is very high indeed.

Chinese immigrants to the British isles have been making food for the natives for over a century. However, the food really came into its own from the 1950s through the 1970s, when the Chinese diaspora proliferated, mainly made up of those from Hong Kong and wider Canton.

Initial, more authentic offerings did not always work well with little-travelled and, at times, insular Brits, so industrious Chinese cooks would adapt the recipes to local palates, often offering sides of bread and butter, chips, omelettes or even meat pies instead of rice, though things have moved on a little since then. It was a hugely successful model and was soon dragged into the much-maligned milieu of British cuisine.

British-Chinese restaurants are sufficiently niche that it’s something of a shock to find one outside the UK and even more of a surprise to find one in Asia. Hà Nội’s Great Wall restaurant in Tây Hồ District is a fusion of excellent British-Chinese food fused with a stylish cocktail bar. 

READY TO ROLL: Peking Duck as served at the Great Wall restaurant.Photo by Nga Hoàng Thanh

Dimly lit with an array of red lanterns hanging inside and out, with dragons subtly carved into the ceiling the restaurant is aware of its heritage. Yet, despite all the knowing nods and winks, it feels more sophisticated than tacky, which is hard to pull off when you have a giant painting of the Great Wall of China hanging on the wall, but the restaurant manages it with considerable elan.

We ordered a selection of dishes typical of the genre including prawn crackers (of course) a vegetable chow mein, ginger chicken, some dim sum, the Peking duck and a few of the house’s exquisite signature cocktails.

The food hit all the right notes and was everything it should be. For those pinning for this very particular style of food, it absolutely nails it. 

LIGHT SHOW: Great Wall is adorned with lanterns. Photo courtesy of the restaurant

The chow mein (VNĐ110,000) had crunchy vegetables, and lightly fried noodles in a thick and addictive soy-based sauce. The pork, prawn and Sichuan pepper dim sum (VNĐ100,000) came in a basket of four pieces, the slight numbing quality of the pepper giving these toothsome morsels a spicy kick without being remotely overbearing.

For something fresh and tangy, the chicken with ginger and spring onion (VNĐ150,000) perfectly hits the spot, a heady mix of oyster sauce, ginger salt, pepper, sugar, water and starch creating a sumptuous sauce packed with umami flavour, and the portion was generous too. Another win for Great Wall.

The standout dish for us was the Peking duck (VNĐ280,000), the rich gamey flavour of the meat and the slightly crispy skin contrasting beautifully with the fresh scallions and cucumber, all served with a fragrant, sweet hoi sin sauce for dipping.

The restaurant is the brainchild of British expat from Manchester Matt Lowe who has been running restaurants in the capital for years.

“I used to own a restaurant called Chopsticks and we were very busy for dine-in but had no deliveries. So it started as a bit of a joke because I thought most people who come to Việt Nam expected Asian food to be like Chinese takeaways at home, so overnight, we started doing it, just deliveries at first,” said Lowe.

“When lockdown happened, and we effectively lost our business, we started taking it seriously as it was our only income. My local Chinese at home was called Great Wall, so the name was a no-brainer.”

The excellent aesthetics are a key feature at Great Wall, which Lowe puts down to inspiration from his favourite London bar and a girlfriend with a huge talent for interior design.

“I love Soho in London. One of my favourite little bars is called Opium, and it’s a little hole in the wall but does amazing cocktails, so it gave me the inspiration to do the same here,” he said.

“I must mention Yến, my partner -- she’s the best interior designer I have ever worked with. I showed her some grainy photos, and she made it exactly as I imagined. She’s amazing.”

Lowe is quite the socialite but claims he does not have as many late nights as he used to, so deep down, this bar-cum-restaurant might be a little about keeping those things going, a place to enjoy quality drinks into the early hours.

“Mainly Great Wall isn’t too serious; it started as a bit of fun and from a strange passion of mine for drinks and eating the food I grew up with. We open until 4am every day, and as much as I moan about staying out late every night, it’s exactly what I wanted it to be. I can’t wait to open another branch in HCM City in October.”

For people that want authentic Chinese food that you might find in downtown Beijing then Great Wall might not be the ticket (though the duck and dim sum are in the ballpark), but for those who want, indeed crave, to try the British-inspired version with all its delightful quirks, this beautifully designed restaurant and cocktail bar is an absolute must.

And if you are more thirsty than hungry, it also moonlights as an elegant late-night watering hole, hugely popular with locals and expats alike, with strong well-made cocktails guaranteed to turbo-charge your evening. VNS

Great Wall

Address: 19 Dang Thai Mai, Tay Ho, Hà Nội

Opening hours: Midday til late

Comment: Restaurant-cum-cocktail bar offering up classic British Chinese cuisine


Comments (0)

Related content