Tabletalk: Keeping it real
You don't have to take a trip down the Mekong Delta to find really interesting, authentic and well-priced food, says Lucinda O'Sullivan, fresh from her visit to the new Ha Noi-Ha Noi
With foodie celebs and their camera crews dashing up the Mekong River, we haven't seen so much of Vietnam on TV since the 1970s! Everything Vietnamese is hot right now, and the 'real' experience seems to be de rigueur. The Mekong River with Sue Perkins showed the Great British Bake Off star getting a dunking in the murky Mekong waters during a canoe race, only to be horrified later, when she was told by river residents that they urinated and defecated in it. "Defecated!" she bleated. "I hope I don't get cholera." Did she expect gold-plated loos on the river?
Our own Kitchen Hero, Donal Skehan, in Donal's Vietnamese Adventure, wasn't my cup of tea as he rabbited on somewhat about doing 'PTCs' (pieces to camera), as though 'TV speak' was an everyday occurrence for normal bods like you and I.
Somehow, they both looked a bit frantic and forced, like fish out of the Mekong. The only watchable one for me is Luke Nguyen's Vietnam, where his PTCs are cool, calm and collected, and in beautiful scenic locations.
Back on the banks of the Liffey, most of our south-east-Asian eateries are in simple surroundings, at equally simple prices, with people feeling they're getting the real deal. Mind you, the new Ha Noi-Ha Noi, a Vietnamese bar and restaurant on Capel Street, with its elaborate decorative features, had me thinking I'd stepped into a Bond movie.
Located in the building where the iconic O'Hagan Design started out in the 1970s, it is divided into two areas - with a bar on one side and restaurant on the other. A staircase, with ornate bronze-and-gold floral handrails, descending to the splendiferous basement bathrooms and private areas, was worthy of the new Beckham palace.
Vietnam has a long history of French occupation, and one of their popular staples is banh mi Vietnam, which is a baguette filled with pate, marinated pork, home-made sausage, mayo, salad and Vietnamese sauce. The extensive menu included these as well as pho, the classic Vietnamese thick rice-noodle soup; sticky rice cakes; dumplings; crepes; fermented pork rolls; and marinated, flame-grilled meats. Prices ranged from €2.50 each for lamb skewers, to grilled jumbo prawns at €16. Perfect as grazing and sharing dishes!
We kicked off with goi cuon - summer rolls (€3.80) - a favourite of mine. There is just something that is almost orgasmic about biting into the pliable rice-paper wrap that enfolds crisp green mint and other herbs, rice noodles, prawns, cucumber, and satay sauce. Tom boc cang cua (€5.50), were delicious, bulbous, stuffed, deep-fried crab claws with spiced chilli oil. Banh bao (€2.80), which was a sizeable Vietnamese steamed bun, filled with a fine stuffing of pork, eggs, mushrooms and vermicelli, was too doughy for us. Bun hai san (€9), on the other hand, was a wonderful bowl of seafood broth, which was filled with noodles, prawns, squid and mussels.
My friend, at this point, was chomping through a forest of pho tron xa xiu (€8). Xa xiu is marinated char siu ('fork roast') - a barbecued pork meat with thick rice noodles, fresh salad leaves, mint, coriander, cucumber, peanuts and crispy onions. "You need to turn it over, as the sauce is on the bottom," explained the charming Jenny, who came on the scene at this point. She also told us that they have the Far East Chinese restaurant in Ballyfermot, but that she and the family are, in fact, Vietnamese.
We passed on desserts (€2-€4.50), which tend to be more cooling than sweet. A tad surprisingly, they didn't have any Asian beers. With two glasses of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc (€5 each), and two Diet Cokes (€2 each) for me, our bill with optional service was €48.20. Plan your own Vietnamese expedition - down Capel Street.
Ha Noi-Ha Noi,
101/102 Capel Street, Dublin 1, Tel: (01) 878-8798
Three to try: The Liffey Delta
6 Cope Street, Dublin 2.
Tel: (01) 671-8671
Style: A cool, contemporary feel, with Vietnamese artefacts and decor. An extensive menu, ranging from sweet green-bean gruel to coffee with egg. Phos; xois (sticky rice); banh mis and noodles galore
Try: Bun nem thit cua - rice noodles with Vietnamese crab meat rolls, €9.50
Drinks: Wines range from €21. Vietnamese beer; smoothies
46A Capel Street, Dublin 1.
Tel: (01) 878-8555
Style: The simple decor, and Vietnamese street food, of Aobaba Bubble Tea & Juicy Bar Restaurant, belies the fact that it is part of a group which started in Kingston-upon-Thames in 2008, and has four branches around London
Try: Hu tieu - Phnom Penh noodle soup, €5.80
Drinks: Bubble tea, fruit tea, Vietnamese beer and smoothies
Derrynane House, 19 The Mall, Waterford.
Tel: (051) 858-002
Style: Sabai offers Thai and a selection of Vietnamese dishes. There's an al fresco dining area for gentle weather
Try: Hanoi Seafood - mixed seafood, stir-fried with chilli, garlic and lots of fresh herbs, €18
Drinks: Wine range from €20. Cocktails and beers
Sunday Indo Life Magazine