Friday, February 10, 2006

Upscale Dining in Hanoi

Nam Phuong Appetizer Based on our shortlist of restaurants worth visiting in Hanoi which had been highly recommended by friends of friends, fellow foodies, other food bloggers, in torn scraps of articles from magazines (especially airline inflight magazines) - we are that crazy about food - we zeroed in on Nam Phuong and Emperor Restaurant as the must-trys in our first sojourn to this city.

At Nam Phuong, its Cold Appetizer is Vietnamese-style pork sausage cum ham, but Chinese-style presentation. Nice bite to the ham. Nothing much to shout about.

Grilled Beef in Bamboo Cylinder Personally, I preferred the presentation of the Grilled Beef in Bamboo Cylinder (bo nuong ong tre), which arrived at the table served in a bamboo cylinder with side dishes of herbs and rice vermicelli and sheets of rice paper. Tender, well-marinaded with lemongrass, brown sugar and fish sauce (I think), serving the beef with the vermicelli and herbs in the form of a wrap with a dipping nuoc nam sauce, is like having a healthier version of the Bun Bo (grilled beef rice vermicelli) served on the streets. Not too bad at all.

Grilled Beef Wraps

Grilled Shrimp Paste on Sugarcane The Grilled Shrimp Paste on Sugarcane (chao tom nuong), is quite a traditional local dish hailing from the old imperial capital of Hue. At the top right corner of the grilled shrimp paste is a mound of Lotus Stem Salad (goi ngo sen), which I liked very much. Hardly found in Singapore, the lotus stems have a crisp, crunchy succulent texture that lends itself very well to salads.

Lotus Salad Pictured on the right is the Shrimp Salad with Banana Flower. I've said it once and I will say it again and again - when in Vietnam, you must savor their salads, fresh, flavorful and appetizing, I swear they are the only Asians (apart from the Thais, who unfortunately have a heavier hand when it comes to spicing up their salads) who can give the Westerners a run at the world championship for salads.

Simmered Pork and Shrimp in Claypot (heo kho to voi tom), this is another local dish with multiple layers of flavors being discovered as you savor further, tender melting pork, sweet prawns, a touch of nuoc nam, a tad of spicy heat, silky layer of gravy but not too oily. Very appetizing with plain fluffy white rice.
Simmered Pork & Shrimp in Claypot
Emperor Restaurant, within walking distance from the Hanoi Opera House, is situated in a refurbished French colonial villa, with a beautiful tree-lined courtyard. Exuding old world charm, dining in this courtyard with its romantic ambience is probably best enjoyed by couples, and the 6 'noisy' Gorge(ou)s proceeded instead up a winding wooden staircase to the second level dining area with its lovely Asian-accented decor.

Fresh Spring Roll These were lovely fresh prawn rice rolls, but I'm pretty sure better value can be found on the streets of Hanoi.

The Hue Spring Rolls on the other hand were ingeniously presented, each fried crispy spring roll pierced with a toothpick into a hollowed out pineapple, which is lighted from within using tealights.

Hue Spring Roll

Of all the salads we had in Hanoi, these two scored the highest in presentation and fared very well in the taste-test too. The first is the Emperor's rendition of the Banana Blossom Salad with Dried Beef, and if you're thinking of beef jerky or our local bak-kwa, you will be surprised as was I by the tender yet flavorful strips of beef (probably well-aged beef may be a better description).
Banana Blossom Salad
The second below is the Grapefruit Salad (goi buoi), which is actually the Vietnamese local pomelo more sweet and less sour than the pomelos found in Singapore. Do you see the chopped roasted peanuts and mint, basil and laksa leaves in both salads? Standard ingredients in most Vietnamese salads.
Grapefruit Salad

The Grilled Beef in Betel Leaves (bo la lot) as shown in the pic below does not look great, but here, looks are truly deceiving. The ground marinaded ground beef mixture is wrapped and rolled in betel leaves (daun kaduk), threaded through bamboo skewers and grilled. Due to the marinade mixture, the ground beef is again meltingly tender and flavorful, complementing the unique, slightly spicy and pungent flavors of the betel leaves.
Grilled Beef in Betel Leaves

Steamed Garoupa with ChilliWe also tried the Steamed Grouper with Chilli served in a banana leaf parcel, and Sauteed Tiger Prawns with Tamarind Sauce. Both dishes were quite okay but not outstanding or unusual and certainly did not warrant the high prices that we paid for them (each dish costing about US$7 to US$8).

All in all, we did enjoy ourselves at both restaurants, and certainly would not mind dining at them again on future trips, as they represent the culinary wave in Vietnamese chic-style restaurants springing up all over Hanoi currently. For comfortable stylish ambience, good food prepared and served in style, these two places are worth a visit and especially if you have a business expense account (doesn't require an excessively generous one)!
Be prepared to pay around US$12 to US$15 per person at Nam Phuong while splurging about US$16 to $20 per person at Emperor.

Nam Phuong
19 Phan Chu Trinh, Hanoi, Vietnam
Tel: (84-4) 8240926

Emperor Restaurant
18b Le Thanh Tong Street
Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi, Vietnam
Tel: (84-4) 8268801


Blogger fooDcrazEE said...

Now u r making me really wants to go back to Vietnam...I have been trying to search for lotus stem back here for ages and no ones seems to know about them..Weird..

BTW Nam Phuong meant southern phoenix. Nam = south.

The cold pork dish looks like Jambon to me. They are all so lovely and the pic is wonderful. What an insight and experience you had eh ? the 6 Gorge(ous) ladies - chuckle


2/10/2006 09:58:00 PM  
Blogger slurp! said...

So that was Betel Leaves (bo la lot) that I tried. but my is wrapped with minced pork and pan fried. I have this at my friend's MIL stall and i love this very much. too bad, didn't have a good shot as was trying to finish food quickly as the noon crowd (workers from nearby) were coming in. i'm 1hr to depart as well. maybe next time.

agree with you that their salads is generally very good. but i think i can tahan the Banh trang phoi suong, DIY salad roll.
yes, will be blogging them soon (I hope)

2/10/2006 11:14:00 PM  
Blogger Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Mmmh, I love those specialities, especially Beef La Lot and Bun Bo...

I wouldn't mind seeing that country!

2/11/2006 06:33:00 AM  
Blogger eatzycath said...

dear foodcrazee - I really miss those lotus stems, what the heck, I'm craving all the wonderful salads :(

hi slurp - I'm pretty sure your street bo la lot tasted just as good if not better than Emperor's.

dear rosa, if you ever get the chance, I do recommend Vietnam ever so strongly!

2/11/2006 04:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Clare Eats said...

I love vietmaneses salads and food... Ican't wait togo there.All I can say is what a fabulous meal!

2/11/2006 07:34:00 PM  
Blogger shaz said...

hey eatzy
thanx for the comment on my blog. did you check out my posts on hanoi?

2/11/2006 11:49:00 PM  
Blogger eatzycath said...

thanks clare, and I can only echo the sentiments "I can't wait to go back again!".

hi shaz, yes, I enjoyed your posts on Hanoi, we didn't get a chance to try the 'ocs' and the eels - will need to do that the next time we return to Hanoi. Was the shopping good for u as well?

2/12/2006 10:48:00 AM  

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