Monday, September 26 2016

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A fairy-tale dining experience at The Forest

Update: June, 19/2016 - 09:00
Tangy: Prawns with sweet and sour sauce. VNS Photo Edward Dalton
Viet Nam News

An otherworldly atmosphere, coupled with flavourful Vietnamese dishes, makes The Forest in Tay Ho a must-try restaurant. Edward Daltonreports.

 If the Wood Elves of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings ever found themselves hungry in Hà Nội, there’s only one restaurant where they might feel at home. The Forest: House of Rustic Charm has existed in one form or another since 1994, and is currently operated by the third generation of its founding family. Diners are transported from the hectic main road into this quaint and picturesque environment by way of a stone-paved staircase winding through lush greenery and over a large fishpond via a small bridge.

The earthy theme continues upon entry, as guests are greeted by wooden rafters, scarlet ceramic floor tiles and bare brickwork. Despite the strong log cabin vibe, there is a definite air of class about the design. Tables are adorned beautifully with flowers, contrasting yellow and dark grey tablecloths and inch-perfect place settings. Every corner of the restaurant has something interesting to look at, be it the collection of aging bicycles and motorbikes near the entrance, or the sublime countryside wall art in the upstairs dining rooms.

As with any restaurant where so much care is taken over outward appearance, there is always a concern that substance has been sacrificed in the name of style. Thankfully, this is not the case in The Forest, where the service is as attentive and welcoming as you are likely to find at any of Hà Nội’s most upscale restaurants. The wooden hardback menus present a depth of choice sure to satisfy even the most discerning of diners, and I opt for a glass of house red (VNĐ135,000) to quench my thirst while scrutinising the food options.

My hunger dictated that I skip the page of salads and soups, and I opted for a dish of stir-fried mixed vegetables (VNĐ90,000) to ensure I didn’t feel guilty about the large amounts of meat to follow. A colourful dish of perfectly cooked vegetables arrived soon after, flavoured just enough as to not detract from their natural flavours. The next dish really drove home the fact that this restaurant cares just as much about the food as the decor. A plate of pork with tamarind sauce (VNĐ160,000) was a perfect harmony of thin crispy pork slices and sticky-sweet sauce.

The most pleasant surprise of the evening was the tofu. As an enthusiastic carnivore, it’s not an ingredient I easily get excited about. Out of five varieties, I tried the tofu with soy sauce (VNĐ50,000). Despite being soft enough to be greedily swallowed in one bite, the cute presentation and salty soy sauce it arrived in gave me reason to pause and savour it thoroughly. The undeniable star of the meal, however, were the prawns in sweet and sour sauce (VNĐ220,000). The prawns were seasoned so well that they were already delicious enough to be a dish in their own right, but when drizzled with that decadently rich sweet and sour sauce, they become a reason to close your eyes and be thankful for the moment.

The Forest is a diverse venue, and would be an ideal location for a romantic evening with someone special, as there are plenty of quiet corners where the tables are flanked by antique wall decorations and flowers. Equally, however, it would be well suited to hosting large groups – as proven on the evening of my visit, where half a dozen tables had been arranged end-to-end to host a large business group celebrating together. There are smaller dining rooms upstairs that can be reserved by private groups, and you could even hold your wedding reception here.

In a city such as Hà Nội, consumers are blessed with almost unparalleled choice, especially when it comes to food. You could spend US$5 and cover a small plastic table in delicious and filling street foods, or you could spend ten times that amount and indulge in an exquisite tenderloin steak. With this variety in mind, I feel The Forest is mid-range. While certainly not cheap, after considering all factors I feel this restaurant is one of the most unique and best value dining options around. If you are looking for good Vietnamese food served in a memorable and attractive setting, you would struggle to find a better alternative in Hà Nội. —

VNS

Name: The Forest – House of Rustic Charm

Address: 259 Âu Cơ Street, Tây Hồ, Hà Nội

Telephone: 04 3718 2929

Bookings / Delivery: Yes / No

Comments: Charming restaurant in Tây Hồ serving mid-range Vietnamese cuisine. Open daily from 10am to 2pm and 4pm to 10.30pm.

Delectable: Pork in tamarind sauce - just the right amount of crispy and saucy. — VNS Photo Edward Dalton
Vegetarian’s delight: Tofu in soy sauce. The taste matches the charming presentation.— VNS Photo Edward Dalton
Rustic chic: The exterior of The Forest boasts lush vegetation, fruit trees and ponds. — VNS Photo Edward Dalton

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