This week Việt Nam celebrates reunification. Nguyễn Mỹ Hà reports on the latest M&A in restaurants
Rock and roll: Nem lụi, or pork paste roasted on charcoal, a popular dish originally from Huế in the old menu. — VNS Photo Mỹ Hà
As I was browsing my list of traditional northern delicacy houses to treat our special guests from the south, Hàng Sơn 1871 came up as a good suggestion. We wanted to have chả cá (grilled fish) Hà Nội-style in a comfortable setting. I already reviewed Hàng Sơn.
Almost everything good about the restaurant – its food, the service and décor – remained intact. The city’s signature dish is on offer in many restaurants around the city and with the fish now raised in cages along the Đà river, the supply of the once-rare fish is abundant.
As you search for Hàng Sơn 1871, an announcement reads “Thank you, dear beloved customers for your support. Hàng Sơn 1871 has become a leader in the culinary scene in Hà Nội for maintaining traditional delicacies, refining age-old recipes and restoring the long-lost cultural gems.
“We faced many obstacles in our journey and have thus decided to team up with Hẻm Quán street food chain, which has its strength in exotic southern dishes and has already a large pool of customers in Hà Nội.
“Together with the success of Hẻm Quán (Alley Restaurant) chain, we hope to offer the difficult diners of Hà Nội our best dishes from the dynamic Sài Gòn.”
As you are reading this review, you can sample the sizzling hot and well-seasoned dishes of the south. At the moment, Hẻm Quán chain has three locations in busy dining districts of Hà Nội and you can book a table with the app PassGo. Hàng Sơn 1871 shall be the fourth.
Even during our meal, the new dishes were already available for order. Sizzling hot stir-fried veal chops on a cast-iron plate (VNĐ245,000), one of the most popular dishes of Hẻm Quán also came from Hàng Sơn’s old menu.
From April 25, the new menu will take over, and if you go to dine there, chả cá will not be available any more.
Memories: Decorated in the frugal style of 1980s' Hà Nội, the new venue caters to frequent clients with a taste for fresh southern food. — VNS Photo Mỹ Hà
We all had grilled fish and escargots in hot-sour soup.
Chả cá is a delicacy not only in its ingredients, but it also came with a whole different set of tableware: a hot stove, a bronze pan of the old days, and last, but not least, the blue and white ceramic dishes and thin-stemmed bowls.
All the hand-made aluminium cookers, specially designed to cook escargots, lift the dish to a higher level of food. It’s not only the taste, but also a feast for the eyes as one sees it before actually consuming the food.
“Would you change the tableware and utensils also?” They will definitely change to plastic bowls and plates, so that it’ll be easier and lighter to serve more customers. The ornate bowls and plates shall only be hung on the wall as decoration.
Our guests for that special meal were no strangers, but our aunts and uncles, who were from the south, but grew up in the north during the wartime. They moved south to live, but visited Hà Nội for a few days. The plain walls at Hàng Sơn and the tableware reminded them of their difficult yet happy time growing up in the north. The restaurant and the food we had were perfect for reminiscing about the past.
From this week on, at Hẻm Quán, its No 1 best seller is the Đậu hũ khói lửa (Tofu in Fire and Smoke style, VNĐ195,000). Other hot dishes like Sườn bò nướng mộc, roasted beef ribs in big chunks (VNĐ655,000), or Dê nướng tảng, roasted goat meat (VNĐ465,000) are all designed for a group of six.
Sizzling: Stir-fried calf chops on a burning-hot cast iron plate. — VNS Photo Mỹ Hà
As for the drinks to accompany the food, they are different, too. Before, large terra-cotta urns laid along the entrance were where traditional rice wine was stored to soak with fragrant wild fruit. The wine can be consumed in little ceramic cups, which should be sipped slowly.
Now with roasted meat and the hot summer coming, beer can be foreseen as the replacement drink at the house. “We still have wine if customers order,” said a member of staff to me on the phone as she called the following day.
Hẻm Quán is not the only chain that serves southern street food in Hà Nội. Món Ngon Sài Thành, a very popular brand, which belongs to the Ngon group is also packed for lunch and dinner.
Next week, Việt Nam celebrates its 44th reunification anniversary, and the great tastes of the south have won over the choosy and difficult taste buds of Hanoians, which is the true unity in people’s hearts. — VNS