Thursday, November 22 2018


Creative chef grapples with plate expectations

Update: November, 17/2013 - 17:44
Mediterranean blue: The restaurant's brightly coloured interior reflects both the chef's background and culinary enthusiasm.

With a seasonal tasting menu that includes twists on dishes from goat labneh to buffalo chicken spring rolls, the reinvented Daluva is one of the capital's most innovative new restaurants. Elisabeth Rosen reports.

Rough cubes of tahini-pickled tofu poke out from a bed of eggplant. A pine nut trail curls towards vibrant roast beets and a bowl of creamy goat labneh, made in-house using milk from a nearby goat dairy. In New York, seasonal tasting menus aren't cutting edge anymore. But in Viet Nam, they're front page news.

While the Middle-Eastern inflected menu bears witness to chef-owner Shahar Lubin's Israeli heritage, Daluva is not an Israeli restaurant. Yes, you'll find labneh and saganaki; tahini and cumin make recurrent appearances. But to pigeonhole this as ethnic cuisine would be to miss the point.

Just as chefs in other global cities do, Lubin chooses ingredients with the goal of making you reconsider culinary elements you previously took for granted. While the produce is local, he eschews the rules of Vietnamese -- or Western -- cuisine. Sitting through the VND300,000 tapas-style tasting menu (VND250,000 for vegetarians) is like playing an improv game: you never know what's coming next.

When Lubin took over Daluva, it was a staid bistro serving half-hearted attempts at western cuisine. After an exhaustive year-long redesign, the chef turned the restaurant into the kind of innovative destination you can find in other global capitals. The old management served spring rolls and burgers; Lubin fills spring rolls with New York-style buffalo chicken and fashions a tangy ketchup from bell peppers. In a city where fine dining is often synonymous with fussy, sometimes you need a reminder that good food can also be fun.

Tasty tapas: The Middle Eastern-inflected tasting menu changes seasonally based on local ingredients.

The cocktail selection is a case in point, ranging from pina colada served in a green coconut to complex riffs on Vietnamese coffee and fish sauce. Most of Lubin's creations are based on rice wine brewed in the countryside according to his specifications. Infused with flavours like pumpkin, lemongrass, coconut and olive oil, the wines provide a base for many of the unique drinks. To pair with them, he plans to introduce shareable cheese and charcuterie plates: again, not a new concept, but one that Ha Noi sorely lacks.

Drive a few blocks down To Ngoc Van, and the pavement starts disintegrating into rubble. But this end of the street is rapidly becoming another expat-centric Xuan Dieu, with the relocated Kitchen across the street and Joma just around the corner. Inside Daluva, the vibe feels closer to Mediterranean than East Sea, with aqua and turquoise stripes along the white walls and seat cushions stained a brilliant Matisse-blue. If the bursts of colour feel a bit overwhelming, at least they indicate enthusiasm.

Creative spark: Chef Shahar Lubin sets flame to saganaki, crispy slices of fried cheese, for a customer. Photos Daluva


Address: 33 To Ngoc Van

Phone: 04 3718 5831

Price Range: VND200,000 - 400,000

Dishes to Try: Tasting menu, goat labneh, saganaki

That relentless enthusiasm is present in everything here, from the tahini-pickled tofu to the clams steamed in GoldMalt beer and tomato sauce. Saganaki, made with house-made goat cheese fried into crisp triangles and set aflame at your table, is a show-stopper. While the portions occasionally feel small, remember that this is probably the only city where a top restaurant offers a US$15 tasting menu.

Besides, it's a good idea to save room for dessert. Black lager caramel and gooey chocolate mortar together brioche bricks in a decadent bread pudding; pomelo flower infuses yogurt panna cotta. They may be intended for sharing, though you may well want your own.

In the mornings, Daluva shows a tamer side, with baked eggs, omelettes and even a decent bagel, baked down the road at Saint Honore and topped with a golden mess of eggs and cheese. Still, a salade nicoise arrives unexpectedly deconstructed, each element dabbed onto the plate like a painter's palette. It's a hint that Daluva's ambitions are more complex than simple brunch -- and that other restaurants in this increasingly creative city might need to raise their game. — VNS

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