Japanese delights with a rooftop view

April 21, 2024 - 10:04
The Rooftop of the Cornerstone Building in downtown Hà Nội is dubbed one of the best places serving Japanese food in the city.
AL FRESCO: The spacious view of the Rooftop at the Building in downtown Hà Nội. VNS Photos Mỹ Hà

by Nguyễn Mỹ Hà

The last days of spring make you feel like you've had enough of the capricious weather of Hà Nội during its dampest time of year. At times, you think spring's finally coming to an end and can't wait to look forward to a summer holiday at the beach.

This time of year coincides with the beautiful cherry blossoms in Japan, which draw many Vietnamese there to contemplate the beautiful flowers, visit Mt Fuji, and have Japanese food, of course.

"I must say, the Japanese food we had during our trip to Japan in the last days of March was not as delicious as the Japanese food we have in Hà Nội," my friend said. "We only had one good meal."

I can't blame her, unless you are on a tailored tour or led by a local, it's difficult to know the fine places during a package tour. Here in Việt Nam, I was disappointed to have bún bò Huế (Huế-style beef noodles) in the former royal capital city that was not as delicious as the same soups served by Huế aunties in Hà Nội.

Anyhow, here we are on the Rooftop of the Cornerstone Building in downtown Hà Nội, dubbed one of the best places serving Japanese food in the city

The Cornerstone building was built and operated by Daibiru group, so it has a very modern yet comfortable feeling. The building hosts many offices, including the Japanese International Cooperation Agency, which channels government aid to many projects scattered around the country.

Kaiba sushi caters to the Japanese crowd who work there. It has an open garden, where you can sit out during cooler days, not in June or July, of course, as you'd be directly under the sun. Indoors, they have a running sushi counter, and tables.

I chose a set menu, where I could taste a bit of everything: some tempura, some sushi, a few bites of sashimi, miso soup and a dessert. The restaurant's fan page says it is bringing the essence of Osaka's culinary scene to Việt Nam.

To be honest, I can't tell the difference between regions in Japanese food. When I asked friends to teach me how to do some basic sushi about 10 years ago, none would dare to teach me.

"It's some of the most difficult things to learn," one friend messaged me. "My friend even gave birth to a Japanese, and would not have the guts to say she knows how to make sushi."

It's a whole new world, and very different from my world of Vietnamese food.

SUPER FRESH: The sashimi plate gets your palate with Japanese graded sushi, and finest care paid to details. Photo courtesy of Kaiba

In Hà Nội, there are numerous Japanese restaurants, owned by Vietnamese with a Japanese chef to serve the growing Japanese community here, as many love to live in Việt Nam for its warm weather and short commutes.

My set menu tasted delicious, with everything just about right: the tempura was soft and crispy, the sushi was nice, and the sashimi very fresh.

BIT OF EVERYTHING: If you go in a small group and not willing to share, having a lunch set gives you a diverse choice. VNS Photo Mỹ Hà

While I was taking my time to enjoy each bite on my tray, my dining companion seemed to enjoy her eel rice very much. I've never tried Japanese eel.

I've seen Kaiba offering specially suggested Ozaky Gyu, which can be "translated" as a premium beef selection where "its fat melts in the mouth and is easily digested".

I'm not very impressed by the "easily digested" phrase. For me, fat is fat unless it doesn't get into your system. The only reward for having it is to spend longer in the gym or on the treadmill.

Maybe next time we'll try the beef. I keep delaying having the eel, as I'm so used to having Vietnamese eels. One of the reasons is that the Japanese eels are enormous. I'm on the Vietnamese eel team, which believes the smaller the better, for eels, of course.

In the south, we also have big eels like Japanese, but the best ones in the country come from Nghệ An Province in the central region. They make the best eel soups, as well as stir-fried eels with lolot leaves, glass noodles with soft eels (Nghệ An style) or crispy eels (Hà Nội style), or eel hotpot with banana trunk.

The lunch was so nice we didn't notice the time flying by. We had to go back to work, but will head back soon to explore more of this new dining world. VNS