Viet Nam News
by Edward Dalton
With a tagline like ‘Smoke ‘n’ Beer’ there can be no surprises with what confronts you at the latest addition to the increasingly lively lakeside street of Quảng An. The Fat Pig, helmed by chef proprietor Richie Bardsley, is wafting smoky flavours into the faces of carnivores with an attention to detail that leaves you wanting, no, needing more.
In a prime location on Quảng An, the restaurant boasts a large terrace with a calming view of Hà Nội’s West Lake to get any traffic-induced high blood pressure back to normal. The layout creates a warm and bustling atmosphere, with adjacent tables revelling in the outdoor barbeque scene. There is a smaller indoor seating area with a rustic, earthy charm courtesy of the exposed masonry and wall illustrations of meat products.
It’s not often in Hà Nội that you come across a restaurant with a mission statement, but The Fat Pig has one, with a big clue to be found on the meat menu. The chicken isn’t from the local market - it’s specially selected from an organic farm in the city’s outskirt district of Sóc Sơn. While the pigs in Thanh Oai District provide the best pork ribs, the restaurant taps the valleys of Hòa Bình Province to provide the pigs for the pulled pork shoulder. The details continue in this vein, with Bardsley keen on motivating his diners to care about the source of their food. Everything on the meat menu is proudly sourced from the best farms that Việt Nam has to offer, with the only exception being the Cape Grim beef brisket.
There’s a similar story with the beer, with three draught beers coming from the Hồ Chí Minh City-based Pasteur Street Brewing Company. With the Jasmine IPA, or the Passionfruit or Coconut Porter (VNĐ95,000), there is no shortage of choice on how you decide to wash down your smoked feast. Another locally produced smoked ale (VNĐ75,000) from Barett matches the food particularly well. For those who love the smoke but not the beer, an impressive selection of 17 different whiskies and bourbons, a cocktail menu and a wine list should see everyone well satisfied, with an extensive list of fruity and soft drinks for the kids and designated drivers.
The secret to the flavourful meat here is something of an open secret: smoke. The beef brisket (VNĐ160,000) gets a marathon 12 hours in the smoker, the Cao Bằng sausage (VNĐ75,000) gets an hour and everything else falls somewhere in between. The results have to be tasted to be believed. The sausage, with a fat content of about 25 per cent, is sublimely soft in the middle, but takes on a smoky crisp exterior. The chickens, which are smoked whole and cleaved into portions as necessary, make a perfect companion to the homemade BBQ and hot chili sauces.
My personal highlight is the pork, which is available in four different types. At one end of the pig spectrum are the smoked pork ribs (VNĐ75,000). Smoked, seasoned with the chef’s own dry rub recipe and then flame grilled, it’s a symphony of flavour. The charred exterior acts as a deceptive smokescreen for the tender meat beneath, which doesn’t require much coaxing to tear from the bone. On the other end of the spectrum, the pulled pork shoulder (VNĐ65,000) is a whole different package. The shoulder is first injected with brine to maximise juiciness before it gets six hours of smoking. The result is a meaty pile of juicy BBQ-flavoured pulled pork, which could become addictive if indulged in too often.
While the meat no doubt takes centre stage of this performance, the supporting actors could easily steal the limelight. The side dishes at The Fat Pig reflect heavily on Bardsley’s huge variety of experience as a chef, having previously worked the wok in a Chinese kitchen, manned the tandoori oven at an Indian restaurant, and worked in restaurants from England to Australia. The spicy potato and kimchi salad (VNĐ40,000), Fat Pig fried rice (VNĐ70,000) and stir fried vegetables with oyster sauce (VNĐ50,000) are a firm nod to Bardsley’s appreciation and experience with Asian flavours.
Because I think more meat is always a good thing, my favourite side dish has to be the dirty fries (VNĐ80,000), which feature a portion of French fries obscured by a mound of pulled pork, cheddar cheese and spring onions. However, to balance the nutrition of my meal I ordered the smoked corn on the cob (VNĐ40,000), which is grilled and then smothered in a garlic, chili and anchovy butter.
Despite only having opened about one month ago, the terrace is often full of foreigners and locals tucking into whatever platter of meats and sides they have opted for. With the recently introduced lunchtime set menu (two meats, one side dish and a soft drink for VNĐ175,000, Monday through Friday) and plans to start serving locally-sourced coffee and expand upwards onto a second terrace, the future is certainly looking bright – unless you happen to be a pig. VNS
Name: The Fat Pig – Con Heo Béo
Address: 74 Quảng An Street, Tây Hồ District, Hà Nội
Bookings / Delivery: Yes / No
Comments: Bar and BBQ grill overlooking West Lake, open 12-3pm with lunch set menu, closes after dinner service at 11pm. Food prices are per 100g.