Sometimes you walk into a restaurant and you're practically blown away. Such was the case for me when I walked into Hanoi Hanoi for a post-cinema Sunday lunch. Hanoi Hanoi is the newest Vietnamese restaurant to open in Dublin and I'd been gradually hearing more and more about it on the grapevine. Therefore, it was decreed that Sunday cinema would be followed by Sunday lunch at Hanoi Hanoi.
Located at the north end of Capel Street, the interior is a truly glorious mix of exposed brickwork and wooden floors. The seating is mainly individual tables with caramel brown leather seats, while there is also a larger booth for families or parties. It's most definitely not the look of your usual ethnic eatery. Even the bathrooms are fantastic.
The menu is split into different sections, covering a range of Vietnamese food options. You can choose pho (rice noodle soup), banh mi (baguette sandwiches with a range of fillings), hotpots, Vietnamese spring rolls and many other options. The next thing that grabs my attention are the prices, which are extremely attractive to say the least.
We start with a mixture of small dishes. Banh bao is a large steamed bun made from rice flour, filled with a mix of vermicelli, minced pork, mushrooms and an egg (€4.50). It's served with a simple dab of chili sauce, and to be honest we find it filling but a bit bland. A salad of papaya, peanuts, mint and dried beef, dressed with a sweet vinaigrette is wonderfully refreshing (€5.80). I could eat bowls of this every day. Cured fermented pork rolls sounded intriguing on the menu (I was imagining some variation of spring rolls), but it turns out to be a solid pate-type substance, served with another dab of the chili sauce (€6.50). According to the menu, this is one of Vietnam's most popular snacks for parties. In my opinion, they can keep it, but instead hand over more of that salad.
|Steamed rice bun with pork, mushrooms and egg|
|Papaya, beef and peanut salad|
|Cured fermented pork rolls|
A dish of turmeric fish fillet is cooked table side, on a cute little burner. First into the wok are the marinated fish pieces, followed by veg and then rice noodles and peanuts (€11.90). It's all over in the space of a few minutes and with a final flourish of dill and lemon, the dish is served up. It was nice to find that mackerel was the fish of choice, and it stood up well to the fragrant flavours. My dish of braised pork belly comes slightly caramelised in a little clay pot with some braising juices. At €7.50 it's great value for money, with plenty of meat, sticky rice, topped with crispy onion pieces and little shavings of shredded meat or fish.
|Vegetables going into the wok-fried fish dish|
|Turmeric fish fillet getting its final toss|
|Braised pork belly with sticky rice and onions|
Overall, most of the food at Hanoi Hanoi was nicely middle of the road flavourwise. But this is something that I've found to be generally true about Vietnamese food. The flavours are more subtle than other Asian cuisines, thanks probably to the French influence on Vietnam (most evident in the famous banh mi baguette sandwich). Vietnamese food focuses on fresh ingredients, with lots of herbs and vegetables with sparing use of oil.
History is a weird beast and I only recently learned that 400 "boat people" escaped communist Vietnam to settle in Ireland in the 1970s. In order to prevent them from becoming an enclosed community, the Vietnamese families were dispersed to the four corners of Ireland, where they settled and started a new life. Eventually though, many of the families made it back to Dublin, bringing their traditional cuisine with them.
It's taken the Vietnamese significantly longer to make an impact on the Dublin dining scene when compared to Chinese and Japanese restaurants. But with venues like Hanoi Hanoi, they're making quite the impact. Absolutely recommended for novice Vietnamese diners.
Tel: +353 (0)1 878 8798