Viet Nam News
By Hà Nguyễn
If there is something that can warm you up on a really chilly day, it is Japanese hospitality.
I don’t mean the warm sake they serve you, though I am sure it can do the trick, but the very polite, dainty way in which they welcome you.
As I entered the Sài Gòn Sakura Restaurant near the Hà Nội Opera House in the heart of the city, three young (Vietnamese) girls in flowered kimonos smiled, bowed low and ushered us in to a medium-sized room with Japanese-style decorations. I felt like royalty, although we all know it is common courtesy in Japan.
The paintings of Japanese landscapes that adorned the walls were charming. My friends and partners were already there, and the atmosphere was warm and cosy. I was surprised when the manager, Nguyễn Thị Thiệp, said the restaurant could serve up to 200 people.
A waitress, Hạnh, invited me to take a seat. Soon after, she brought us a big wooden boat that had several kinds of fresh seafood – salmon, octopus, sanma and so on (VNĐ950,000).
The way the fish was presented was so attractive that I asked a friend to take a photograph. Someday, maybe I could do it at home.
But however good the fish looked, I was afraid. I’d never eaten uncooked fish, and was not keen on doing so now. Hanh encouraged me, saying all the fish were imported from Japan and Norway. I dithered, but finally decided to try a piece of octopus wrapped up in a perilla leaf, dipped in a combination of wasabi and soy sauce.
The wasabi burned my nostrils and made my eyes water, but the piece was so crispy and sweet and tasty that I took a second one.
As good as the raw seafood was, what I liked most was the seaweed salad with salmon eggs. The freshness of the salad as though it had just been taken out of the sea and the salmon roe only brought the sea closer as its flavours softly exploded in my mouth.
My friend, Kim Thoa, liked the fresh tuna and seafood tempura, but the food had not stopped coming. Next up was French foie gras (VNĐ250,000) and Japanese special beef (VNĐ500,000).
Multiple choice: Sushi and fresh sashimi are the restaurant’s mainstay. Photos Hoàng Hưng
Hạnh told us that although sushi and sashimi were her restaurant’s main courses, these two dishes were also most wanted by diners.
The foie gras was fatty and melted in my mouth in an instant. There was a moment of déjà vu… that took me to the Shangri-la Hotel in France a few years back.
The beef was so soft that I asked Hạnh if it was the famed Kobe beef, but she said no, the meat was from a special Japanese cow ordered by the restaurant.
Even as we were enjoying this food, a plate of fresh fish (VNĐ120,000 per piece) was brought to the table, and we were guided on how to have it, dipping into Japanese vinegar; then there was roasted cod (VNĐ220,000) and fried tempura (VNĐ450,000).
The roasted cod, mixed with Teriyaky sauce, had an appetizing aroma and flavour. The tempura dipped in mayonnaise felt a bit unhealthy. But that could have been because I am afraid of putting on weight.
We were full and ready to wrap things up, but a big bowl of Udon noodles (VNĐ60,000) arrived. I was not going to have any, but the fragrance lured me. Will have a taste, I thought. Was well worth it. The broth was light and flavoured with shrimps, crabs and mushrooms; and the noodle was soft and delicious.
I’ve had similar noodles in other Japanese restaurant, but this was the best.
Now that we were really, really full, there was nothing to do but leave, but Hạnh gently told us to try some ice-cream mixed with matcha, and we did, and it was worth it, too.
“All the dishes here are enjoyable, except some of them are a bit expensive for many people,” one of my friends opined. But she added that she was going to use her bonus to treat her family to a meal here. — VNS
Sài Gòn Sakura Restaurant
Addess: 23 Tôn Đản Street, Hoàn Kiếm District, Hà Nội
Price: VNĐ400,000-1.1 million two persons
Comments: Fresh and tasty dishes with very professional servers.