Sunday, 05/11/2023 10:00

True Vietnamese cuisine from fresh local ingredients

By Hamy Nguyễn

I have always thought that quality ingredients are the foundation of any decent dish, so was eager to experience Lamai, an upscale restaurant that only uses Vietnamese ingredients. If you have worked in the food and beverage industry, you know how courageous this choice is.

Lamai garden is enormous and extremely lovely, however during the night you will most likely not be able to take any pictures because there aren't many lights in the area. — VNS Photo Hamy Nguyễn

Vietnamese ingredients are incredibly delicious, but it can be difficult to guarantee quality. Indeed, Lamai restaurant might be the only upscale eatery to have made such a bold decision. They are performing admirably.

Last winter was my first time dining at Lamai. Since I have been a resident of Hà Nội, and a regular of Vietnamese cuisine, there has not been a Vietnamese eatery that has made me gasp in delight the way Lamai did.

A seat by the bar and just in front of the open kitchen offers diners a chance to observe what is going on inside. — VNS Photo Hamy Nguyễn

The harmony of each dish – all of which had impeccable seasoning – was unquestionably what most impressed me. There was not a single dish with a taste or smell that was overpowering or excessively intense. The head chef is clearly a man of sophisticated talents.

When autumn arrived – a season known for its unique Hà Nội cuisine – I instantly thought of Lamai and its seasonal menu. The reason I was more excited this time was that Lamai had established its own farm to produce its own chickens, pigs, and ducks in addition to growing and harvesting fruits, vegetables, and herbs in the garden. This will help ensure the quality of the menu. Thus, the farm-to-table concept has been steadily implemented at the restaurant.

I decided to have set menu B (VNĐ1,500,000), which is the most expensive and has more courses than the winter set menu I had previously eaten. There were roughly 20 courses in total.

Wild duck and persimmon. — VNS Photo Hamy Nguyễn

Upon entering Lamai, nothing had changed. The wooden gate leads to the service area, but not before passing through an enormous and extremely lovely garden.

I had supper by myself that evening, so I made reservations at the bar just in front of the open kitchen, so I could eat and observe what was going on inside. For just one to two persons, these are fascinating seats.

The staff suggested combining the dish with a homemade juice and wine combination. I had to drive, so I went for the juice pairing set, which comes with four freshly made drinks – kombucha, tea, and juice.

Khẩu Hang rice, which Lamai uses, has a little sticky feel similar to Hà Nội’s young rice. — VNS Photo Hamy Nguyễn

While the 20-item set menu is incredibly inventive, it will also force people to make comparisons. I'll start by mentioning the menu items most appropriate for autumn.

The black carp was the first star of the menu. The fish was served with guava soup and diced sour star fruit, which gave the dish the appearance of a peaceful lake. Its crispy skin and soft meat resulted from grilling over charcoal, giving it a smoky aroma. Unfortunately, I could not detect any guava in the consommé; yet, the light flavour complemented the black carp and star fruit really well.

Wild duck and persimmon was the second standout dish. The duck was juicy and gorgeously coloured, indicating that it was cooked sous vide. The chef claimed to have nurtured these ducks for three months on the Lamai farm, perhaps explaining the meat's intense, rich flavour.

Rice is a need for any Vietnamese dinner, of course, and sesame salt, duck, fish, and wild mushroom floss were served with the Khẩu Hang rice.

The Khẩu Hang rice that Lamai uses has a little sticky feel, similar to Hà Nội young rice. Since the side dishes weren't very salty, I finished practically all of them.

Rice gelato, pomegranate jelly, with pomegranate sauce. — VNS Photo Hamy Nguyễn

For those who enjoy rice, this bowl was somewhat small in comparison to the serving size of a typical bowl of rice.

My favourite dessert was the rice gelato, pomegranate jelly, with pomegranate sauce. What is autumn without pomegranates? Served with sweet and sour pomegranate juice, the gelato melted in my mouth and was surprisingly creamy, smooth, and not at all icy.

In conclusion, I was delighted after eating this meal, maybe because I couldn't help but notice how all the familiar ingredients looked so lovely and delicate, like they were wearing a new coat. Things somehow feel much more delicious when everything is organised, tidy, and has a clear origin.

Everything about this place, from the cuisine to the people, is cosy, warm and enjoyable: a highly recommended must-try restaurant. — VNS

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