Thursday, September 20 2018


Western tastes meld with family tradition

Update: March, 03/2013 - 07:00
Pumpkin puree:Abowl of squash soup is creamy but could use a more assertive hand with the seasoning.

A neighbourhood restaurant near West Lake offers a blend of western and Vietnamese food, served up in a snug courtyard an ideal hangout place for the locals. Elisabeth Rosen reports

It's a grueling quest to find American pancakes in Ha Noi, where French colonial tastes have left an enduring mark on restaurant menus. Omelets and croissants make themselves readily available. But when you see "pancake" on a menu, the word inevitably denotes a thin crepe.

The Locals, a cozy bistro that opened in November, aims to change that. Drizzled in a light glaze of honey syrup and topped with a petite square of butter, the restaurant's oatmeal pancakes (VND65,000) recapture the elusive pleasure of the American griddle cake. Flecks of oat and a light, fluffy crumb make the sweet stack feel endearingly homemade.

Flip side:Pancakes are rare in the capital, but The Locals' stack of flapjacks nails the elusive breakfast.

For the Nguyen sisters, who own the restaurant, being ahead of the crowd when it comes to Western food runs in the family. Their grandfather, Vu Hung, grew accustomed to European fare while working as a diplomat in Egypt in the 1970s. After returning to Viet Nam, he opened Chau Thanh, a restaurant in Phat Loc Alley that gained fame as one of a handful of establishments in Ha Noi serving gourmet Western cuisine. It was there that Thanh Vu, their daughter, honed her cooking skills; today, she's the head chef at The Locals, where you can also find Vu Hung making pate, smoked ham and salami.

The Locals is very much a family enterprise, which suits the owners' goal of fostering a sense of community. Movie nights and live music – a recent showing featured Chicken Run and The Darjeeling Limited – turn the quiet cafe into a neighbourhood hangout.

Located on a quiet, verdant street just steps from West Lake, the open-air courtyard is ideal for brunch, although it converts just as easily into an evening destination. Small, shareable plates like spring rolls (VND45,000) and honey-roasted ribs served with crisp French fries (VND85,000) fuse both Vietnamese and Western cuisine and pair well with the extensive cocktail menu.

The restaurant is still finding its footing, so naturally there are some missteps. Pumpkin soup (VND55,000) is creamy but bland. Sunny-side up eggs and baguette (VND35,000) are indistinguishable from the breakfast you can find at any street-side joint.

Strange fruit:While the large portion is a nice change, this salad – mainly of iceberg lettuce – doesn't have much else to recommend.

Portions tend to run small. At night, with a drink in hand, this might not be a problem. But for breakfast, the plates often feel too insubstantial. After a recent brunch, all of my dining companions confessed that they were still hungry.

At times, the menu can be misleading. Ordering fruit salad (VND65,000), we expected an array of fruit. Instead, we got an enormous platter of iceberg lettuce drizzled sporadically with Italian dressing and scattered chunks of apple and pineapple.

The best dishes – like the pancakes – are sweet. Thin strips of baguette, glazed with butter and honey syrup, make a remarkable French toast (VND65,000). In The Locals' interpretation of tiramisu (VND55,000), a square block of coffee-infused custard snuggles up to a thick layer of sponge cake in a dense mass more akin to cheesecake than the standard airy mascarpone. It might not be traditional, but it works.

Since the restaurant is built on the bottom floor of a residential house, the owners were not allowed to make major structural changes. But the few additions they've made, like wooden furniture designed by the owner of City Owls and hand-painted knickknacks placed on counters and windowsills, work well with the old stone exterior. The place feels both quaint and modern – a setting for all the generations to come together. — VNS


Local hangout:The owners hope that the pleasant courtyard will offer neighbourhood residents a place to gather, offering movie screenings and concerts along with eclectic fare. VNA/VNS Photos

The Locals

Address: B11/128 Thuy Khue

Tel.: 04 3728 1874

Price Range: VND100,000 - 300,000

Comment: Small, eclectic menu of sweets and savories. Dishes to try: oatmeal pancakes, French toast, tiramisu

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