Sunday, 30/10/2022 09:59

Try some tip-top teppanyaki


PORKY PERFECTION: Okonomiyaki as served up at Teppanyaki Diamond. VNS Photos Hoàng Thanh Nga

 Having your dinner pop, crack and sizzle as it’s cooked just a few inches from your nose is hard to beat, whether it’s a Vietnamese hotpot, Korean barbecue or Japanese teppanyaki. And this is precisely the case at Teppanyaki Diamond, just off the Asian food haven that is Hà Nội’s Kim Mã Street.

Slip through the blink-and-you-will-miss-them sliding doors, and it’s as if you’re suddenly in downtown Osaka. Japanese salarymen boisterously pound beers, saki and top-shelf whisky while they order dish after dish of freshly grilled meats, seafood and vegetable hot off the large tabletop grill that is the teppan.

There aren’t too many teppanyaki restaurants in the Vietnamese capital, and this one vies as one of the more authentic. The ones at the fancy hotels serve good food but somehow lack atmosphere. Not so here, with the restaurant, as the name suggests, proving to be a real diamond in the rough.


FRESH FROM THE GRILL: Charred chicken with salt, lime and scallions.

You will find no fanciful culinary knifemanship here, nor are chefs casually catching eggs in their hats, or tossing shrimp heads into their pockets, as is so familiar in many teppanyaki chains that you can find outside Japan.

Instead, you will find restaurant owner and cocksure bon viveur Hoàng Bá Tân drinking and joking as he grills dish after dish for his hungry and seemingly thirsty patrons.

Though Vietnamese, Tân speaks fluent Japanese after spending several years in the country where he did all manner of jobs before finding his true calling. He tells us that the early years were a real struggle.

“Oh, it was tough,” he says. “I was a student in business and tourism. I lived 16 kilometres from school. I worked as a docker, and onion chopper, then I would push my bicycle up three hills to get home, study all afternoon until 6pm, and then go out to work again. Then back home to cook and eat alone.”


READY FOR ACTION: Hoàng Bá Tân at the teppan.

He no longer cooks alone, that’s for sure. The time we tried the venue, it was fully booked. I have no idea if Tân earns great money from his restaurant -- I suspect he does just fine -- but he comes across as a man that runs the restaurant simply because he loves it and what it represents. He loves the hubbub of socialising with his customers.

“Absolutely. Eighty per cent of the job is chatting to the people in here. I wouldn’t do it otherwise,” he says.

As you might expect, Tân is a Japanophile and very open about the fact. “I love the culture. There they go wild. But they would never lose their face, not in a proper establishment,” he says in Vietnamese as he drizzles some oil on some okra and baby corn smothered in garlic, butter and onions.

“The most important thing about Teppanyaki is the environment. You come here. You feel the buzz and atmosphere; you drink more, then some more. That’s the thing.”

If atmosphere is what he craves, he has certainly nailed it at these premises. There’s a crackle in the restaurant that can’t sit much more than 20, as people eat, joke and laugh, getting steadily louder as the night gets older. The ambience is electric.

But the food is strong here too. Nothing flashy. One or two good-quality ingredients with some butter and seasoning sizzled to perfection on the grill. Our group of six orders a dozen or so dishes, including a cold tofu salad, some edamame, a lovely eggplant and bacon dishes, chicken gizzards, some octopus, Kobe beef, grilled lotus root and a bottle of the house saki (VNĐ1.7 million), and plenty of Japanese lager. Most dishes range from about VNĐ130,000 to 200,000 though a few specialist ones run much higher.

Portions are tapas-sized, so they are great for sharing, but you can whip through them quickly, and our bill ended up at around VNĐ7 million for six people. But you could easily spend more.

Tân downplays his restaurant: “We are a bar, really. People come here to drink, and I just served them up great snacks at the same time.”

You can see what he is getting at. The 1am closing time does suggest more of a bar than a formal restaurant, and it’s fair to say it falls somewhere in between the two, not quite a place for a large formal sit-down meal.

Dinners here are highly recommended booking ahead, explicitly asking for a table at the teppan. There are a couple of regular tables at the back, but it’s not quite the same without the grill’s heat and Tân’s wise-cracking.

If you want to taste something approaching a genuine Japanese Izakaya, then Teppanyaki Diamond offers superb experience-led dining and something a little different to what you usually get in the capital.

Our group leaves shortly before midnight, well-lubricated and deeply satisfied. As we’re on the street saying our goodbyes, Tân strolls out in a hurry.

“Where are you off to?” we say.

“Oh, just off to hit the bar,” he says, true to form, and walks off into the warm autumn night. VNS


Teppanyaki Diamond

Address: 37G Kim Mã Thượng St, Hà Nội

Open: 5pm to 1am

Tel: +(84) 855 829 555

Comment: Authentic teppanyaki in the heart of Hà Nội




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