Over the past years our family has started a new tradition. Instead of visiting a Chinese restaurant for Chinese New Year, we gather and dine at anything but. One year it was “White Spot”, last year Korean cuisine, and this year it was Vietnamese. I choose “Hanoi Old Quarter” wanting to try the newer restaurant myself; having dined at and liking their sister restaurant, the long standing “Mr. Red Cafe”.
“Hanoi” was similar to the original location with its tropical theme: a mix of live and plastic plants, over grown foliage, a thatched roof bar, and artifacts. The traditional music and warm lights added to the cozy feel of the place. As a smaller restaurant, it is highly recommended that you make reservations, they will need to push tables together to accommodate parties larger than 4. We were spread across three tables. Those sitting along the booth, against the wall, found ourselves balancing cheek between the cracks of the seats. Worse still was the fact that the benches were set at different heights.
When it came time to order, a few of our family members ordered their own dishes, but most of us shared everything, family style.
The “Green Papaya salad” was a nice start. Thin strands of fruit that ate like vegetables. It was refreshing and tangy with the familiar flavour of fish sauce. You also get a certain herbaceous-ness to it from the mint, and layered crispiness from the fried onions.
The “Prawn and pork spring rolls” were a little too oily for my liking. They had a flat flavour that was helped along with a thorough dunking into the fish sauce dip. In my opinion, fish sauce fixes everything.
Similar, but different was the “Crab meat spring roll”, though actually they were more like squares”. Similar in deep fry texture and grease, but different in format, thus making it much easier to identify between the two stuffed spring rolls. I didn’t get crab meat in this, there was too much oil masking its lighter flavour. But just as well, with a remedying dunk into the fish sauce, that is all I tasted anyways. If I didn’t know what it was in it, I would have thought this was another pork and shrimp roll.
The “Deep fried chicken wings” were heavy on the batter, but still bland for it. It needed every pinch of the salt that was piled neatly on the side. Another one I dipped excessively into fish sauce.
My brother ordered his usual, the “Lemon grass with rice”, a normally quite person he cleaned his plate without complaints. Sadly, he was not in the mood to share.
I don’t like ordering the same thing as anyone else, so had the similar, but different “Grilled pork chop with rice”. Similar to the chicken in its dome shaped rice side, hard and bland broccoli florets, the bed of lettuce that the protein sat on, and bowl of sauce that looked like soup. I learned of the latter the hard way, taking a gulp of salty fish sauce to quench my thirst. As for the pork chop itself, the meat was tender and tasty with just enough gristle, an even grill and easy to cut. I would definitely order this again for comfort eating.
The “Pork hock, deep fried tofu, and Vietnamese sausage” was an impressive looking set. A choose your own adventure platter. You curate the perfect bite between airy tofu puffs, an earthy sausage with a metallic quality to it, and a tasty smoke prawn paste to mask what you don’t like.
The “Grilled pork belly and patties” wasn’t what I expected. I bowl of chopped up meats, sitting in a pool of fish sauce. Although soggy they were at least tasty. This was best mixed into a noodle dish with the bean sprouts, cucumber, mint, and vermicelli on the side.
The “Duck stew and green bananas in clay pot” looked like a hearty stew, but wasn’t as rich as I wanted it. The duck was dry and chalky, the flavour a little medicinal, and the bananas included the peel. Interesting and different overall, but this one isn’t for me.
The “Beef stew in clay pot” was more my speed. It read “stew” and it delivered. It even came with a whole banh mi baguette to help sop up stringy meat and plentiful gravy.
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
Not the mainstream Vietnamese flavours I have come to know and expect, but something completely different and worth trying nonetheless. New flavours and unique ingredients prepared with presentation and freshness in mind. Although saying that, if I was to return I would try their pho and/or order the lemon grass or grilled pork on rice again. Don’t deny your cravings.