Sunday, 26/06/2022 08:58

The Old Hà Nội: ideal to meet old friends

A restaurant in the capital that never fails to impress with its classic local dishes and rarefied setting

SWORN IN: World famous chef Gordon Ramsay has visited the restaurant, which has proved great for marketing.

by Nguyễn Mỹ Hà

Flights have been resumed after a taxing COVID period, and Vietnamese living abroad were seen flying back to Việt Nam to visit their ageing parents after a two-year lockdown.

After hugging their parents to their heart's content, they also needed to catch up with old friends. And just like old friends in the old days, Old Hà Nội Restaurant was a popular choice to host guests. And we joined in, with a joyous reunion dinner.

Conveniently located in a neighbourhood where both the Old Quarter and French Quarter are within walking distance. Old Hà Nội is located in a French-style villa, and has all the grace and grandeur required for a reunion dinner to welcome expatriated friends. 

We were a big group, so we had a big feast, doting all the best dishes for our beloved guests, who had all been craving real Vietnamese food for some time.

The Old Hà Nội's motto is 'the art of Vietnamese cuisine', which they have taken as the cornerstone of their cooking, lifting it to ever-higher levels of brilliance.

The first dish was something like a fusion bánh cuốn (VNĐ145,000). The steamed rolls of superfine rice crepes, wrapping ground pork, wood ear mushroom, and onion are popular breakfast treats.

Here, the chef added crab roe on top, which gave the rolls a catchy look, yet upon tasting, the roe crackles slightly as you chew. A deliciously creative twist. These crab roe crepes were superb. I'd recommend them heartily.

PERFECT PARCELS: The lotus triangle is one of the restaurant's special treats. VNS Photos Mỹ Hà

 Next, we ate golden burnt rice with ground pork with shrimp paste topping (VNĐ111,000). Those who have come to like this dish must have grown up during the hard economic times in war-torn Việt Nam. You still have to have fairly strong teeth to be able to chew on this crispy rice. 

When you are in a fine restaurant, you talk about delicate tastes and nuances of flavour. But this simple dish has only two elements: crispness and salt. But it was so delicious. We had more gourmet dishes to treat our guests. But my heart had stopped at the cracker rice with ground pork. 

ELECTRIC: Sea eel stew hot pot, a hearty main course to share among a big group.

We also had triangle lotus nem (VNĐ145,000), which was a special size for Hà Nội's escargot rolls. It's not anywhere near a roll, more a wrap than a roll. Though made slightly differently, you just have it the usual way as with spring rolls: with fresh herbs and fish sauce for dipping.

Next came the imported roasted Fuji beef steak in a hot iron cast pan (VNĐ495,000), with potato chips and some vegetables. It was good, tender meat and a great accompanying sauce. This is a great recommendation for any accompanying visitor who cannot easily devour Vietnamese dishes with its broad and occasionally challenging flavour palate. The tender meat here will satisfy even the pickiest of eaters.

Then came the highlight of our meal, a hot pot with sea eel stew served with bread. You pick an eel (VNĐ1,050,000 per kilo), and the chef weighs it and charges accordingly. The good thing about this offering is it keeps warm for a long time, which is good for a fish dish. But it came when we were all quite full, so it would be unfair to rate it when our taste buds were on the wane. I will come back another time to give a more detailed review. 

After a long absence, we had so much to catch up on. Though we're all connected on Facebook, life has so much more to talk about than those picture-perfect things people post to brag about on social networks. Nothing beats real face-to-face contact among friends.

The restaurant even has a piano, and someone sat down to play a tune. Everyone sang along. Many were out of tune, but nobody cared. We booked a separate room and did not annoy other guests.

It was so good to see each other again, get a hug, and then move on with our lives, until the next time. The Old Hà Nội is a perfect spot to catch up with old friends. VNS

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