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Lakeside Dinh Lang puts diners out to sea

Update: June, 25/2006 - 00:00

Dining out

Ship-to-shore: Dinh Lang Restaurant has the shape and decor of a Ha Long tour boat, along with a colourfully attired and ever-present staff.

A trip to your table: Banana flower salad has a far-out presentation and a cool zing. VNS Photos Liz Fink

Dinh Lang

Hours: 10:30 am-2pm, 5 pm-10pm

Address: 1 Le Thai To St

Comment: Ha Noi's most prime location, and most befuddling menu

(25-06-2006)

Lakeside Dinh Lang puts diners out to sea

If you can get past the loud music, kitschy decor, confusing menu and hovering wait staff, Dinh Lang offers prime views of Hoan Kiem Lake ... and the food isn’t bad, either. Liz Fink eats and runs.

The biggest challenge of the Vietnamese restaurant Dinh Lang was the menu. Granted, the surprisingly loud live music being played about 6m to my right made it hard to focus. Hearing Oh Susannah played on tea glasses and a bizarre rendition of Auld Lang Syne – played in June, complete with a xylophone solo – was a little discombobulating.

But it was impossible not to relax in the long, narrow restaurant with the shape and decor of a Ha Long Bay tour boat. We were cooled down by wonderful gusts of air conditioning, ensconced at a table surrounded by standard-issue pan-Asian decor like reed curtains and dragon lanterns. Right-side tables enjoy prime views of Hoan Kiem lake.

The restaurant is a good bet for large groups and families, who comprised most of the busy restaurant’s clientele the Saturday night I dined. The kitsch decorations and the location would have made me assume that it was more a tourist spot, but it was made up mostly of locals. The completely indoor – and often very loud – Dinh Lang provided a boisterous and lively contrast to the hushed, verdant gardens of much of the upscale Vietnamese restaurant scene.

After taking in the ambience, it was time to grapple with the menu. At first, my friends and I puzzled over the fact that all we had were a drink menu and a set menu. There was a small but serious selection of wine (bottles starting at VND220,000), a quick two-item foray into champagne (the apparently contradictorily titled "Russian champagne" and, at VND924,000, the vaguely titled "French champagne"), juices, and a pretty standard list of cocktails for around VND60,000.

The set menu, featuring one-person six and seven course meals for $10-20, appeared to be a good deal, but the time required to read through the dizzying variety of meal options and the commitment and appetite requisite in eating seven pre-selected courses was too daunting. Finally, upon asking the wait staff who hovered around the table in a wide variety of uniforms, ranging from bow ties to red, yellow and green silk, we managed to snag an a la carte menu, but there were dozens of separate categories, split up by city and main ingredients. My eyes blurred by the barrage of choices. I couldn’t tell the difference between the Ha Noi, Hue, and Sai Gon selections: meat, noodles, fish, fried, sauteed, braised, steamed, vegetables.... Most dishes even come in two sizes. Frankly, I found it as large as my general chemistry textbook and as impenetrable as Finnegan’s Wake.

As a gesture of defeat, we ordered the nom hoa chuoi, or banana flower salad (VND27,000), largely because it was listed on the first page. It was a good move, though, as we were intrigued by the far-out presentation almost as much as the dish itself: it came served on a tray surrounded by huge purple and while flowers. The dish was nicely spiced and came with a cool zing.

We also chose crab nem on pineapple, or cha gio cua be cam thom (VND40,000), though admittedly I couldn’t find it on the menu: we asked the waiter for nem and he had to find the page. The fried spring rolls were tasty, well-spiced, and well-done overall. In what struck me as a tropical island touch, the kind of style that would feel right at home accompanying cocktails with little paper umbrellas, the nem were attached by toothpicks to a hollowed-out pineapple shell with a hot flame inside. It was somewhat disappointing, though, as the pineapple was only present for the visual effect and the taste of pineapple would indeed have been a nice complement to the crab.

We also ordered the thit bo xao can toi, or beef with celery and leek (VND27,000), which was located comfortingly close to the start of the menu. Without any wild touches in the presentation, the succulent beef and crisp vegetables were more than able to adequately represent themselves. Emboldened by our successes, I ventured further into the menu and ordered fried tofu, which was a very good deal at VND20,000, and came with a gratis serving of mam tom, fermented shrimp sauce, which despite an off-putting odour packed a tasty punch.

We left the restaurant relatively quickly after finishing eating, having watched as the crowd gradually emptied out and the band slowly quieted. Dinh Lang isn’t the kind of place to linger for quiet conversation. Rather, it was an appropriate jumping-off point, as we sped away on motorcycles into the steamy and wild Ha Noi nightlife, for the long and lively night to follow. — VNS

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