Viet Nam News
A cosy corner on a peaceful Parisian street, An Di An Di invites diners to try out a small selection of creative Vietnamese-French fusion dishes. Thúy Hằng explores.
Dining at the An Di An Di bistro wasn’t easy. A friend had recommended the restaurant and I hoped to try it out when I was in Paris last September.
According to my friend, the restaurant, which derives its name from a friendly invitation to eat in Vietnamese, is very popular among Parisian foodies. The bistro is run by a group of three friends. The head chef was born and raised in Hà Nội but has been living in Paris for decades. The other two – a waiter with Vietnamese heritage, and a Vietnamese-French pastry chef – were born in Paris.
“It is so famous that most French food critics have been here to review it,” my friend said. He had studied in Paris and absorbed a great deal of refined French culture.
I couldn’t resist the temptation and determined to visit as soon as possible. However, I failed to check beforehand and turned up one afternoon to find the bistro closed. On my return to Paris last month, I made sure nothing would stop me and called to book a table in advance.
My friend and I arrived at the small local bistro after half an hour of driving in the pouring rain from the 7th arrodissement.
Although I was expecting the place to be small (like most others in Paris), An Di An Di was especially cosy. While settling down at my table I counted 23 seats in total. Maybe due to the limited space there were very few decorative items on the walls: a black-and-white photo depicting a street scene of, I guess, Sài Gòn in times gone by; and a small vase of flowers on the bar.
After some struggling with the menu which was written in French, I finally succeeded in ordering some food with the help of my companion, who spoke a little French, and the waiter, whose parents are Vietnamese but spoke mostly French with a bit of Vietnamese.
In terms of size, the menu matched the interior, offering just four entrees, four main courses, and three desserts.
I decided to have a salade de fleur de bananier, or banana flower salad to start; then the faux-filet sauce phở, nem dauphinois, crème de carotte, or beef fillet with phở sauce, potato spring rolls and crème carrot. For dessert, I chose the dessert vietnamien tapioca, lait de coco, mangue, or Vietnamese tapioca sweet pudding with coconut milk and mango.
Piece of art: Beef tenderloin with phở sauce, potato spring rolls and carrot crème. VNS Photo Thúy Hằng
After noting down our order, the waiter disappeared behind the counter for a moment before returning.
“The chef thinks that the banana flower salad is too common for you in Việt Nam, so he suggested you try the spicy tofu instead,” he said.
I agreed and opted for the accras de tofu soyeux, piment, mayonnaise au sate, or fried silky tofu with saté mayonnaise.
Visually, the two small, golden tofu balls were not particularly eye-catching. The rough balls, together with a bold dash of yellow mayonnaise sauce, were displayed on a small plate of a similar colour, making the dish look jumbled.
Thankfully, contrary to its humble appearance, the flavour was a pleasant surprise. With every bite, I enjoyed the crisp exterior and the silky soft, lightly creamy interior, which was perfectly partnered with a light spice. The mayonnaise sauce, comprising spicy saté, helps to bring out the taste of creamy tofu. However, for me, the fried balls themselves were good enough, even without the sauce accompaniment.
Ha Noi to Paris: Chef Phạm Hồng Nhật. VNS Photo Thúy Hằng
As I thoroughly enjoyed the starter, I was eager to see how the next course would fare. I’m pleased to report it didn’t disappoint. The beef tenderloin with phở sauce, potato spring rolls and carrot crème was well-presented, much like any other fine-dining establishment. A piece of succulent beef tenderloin was placed next to two potato spring rolls on a black plate. I like the striking contrast between the yellow colour of the carrot sauce, the pink of a slice of onion on top of the beef, and the dark plate. The contrast oozed class, making me reluctant to tuck in to the artwork.
The beef was grilled perfectly, with a juicy texture and a nice shade of ruby inside. The chef really has brought the potato to another level: thin potato slices wrapped in Vietnamese rice paper before frying. The potato roll had a slight crisp on the outside and was soft inside. The sauce, which had a very light hint of phở broth consisting of cinnamon, star anise, and cardamom, was another ‘wow’ moment. It was not only unique, but also presented the chef’s clever creativeness, resulting in a marvelous fusion of flavours.
Sweet treat: Vietnamese tapioca sweet pudding with coconut milk and strawberry. VNS Photo Thúy Hằng
The final course, the Vietnamese tapioca dessert, was a soothing conclusion. Unlike the authentic Vietnamese dish, which usually has only tapioca and coconut milk, An Di An Di’s “creative version” included strawberry mash (instead of mango as was written on the menu). The dessert was also adorned with peanut and sesame on top. However, the portion was a little large, especially after the two previous dishes.
After the meal we consented to my friend’s suggestion of a shot of kumquat and lemongrass rum – a specialty of An Di An Di. However, the liquor failed to make much of an impression on me – the strong alcohol drowned out the specific aromas of kumquat and lemongrass.
As most of the other diners had left, I saw the chef step out of the kitchen to have a smoke and I took the chance to talk to him.
Originally from Hà Nội, Phạm Hồng Nhật, moved to study in Paris at a very young age. After years working as an IT expert, Nhật decided to quit his job and teamed up with two other friends to open this bistro.
“When you want to start a new business, you should be aware of your strong point so you can compete with others. For us, that is Vietnamese cuisine, especially Vietnamese herbs and spices,” he said.
Depending on the availability of seasonal fruit and vegetables, Nhật changes the menu to ensure his customers get the freshest flavours when they visit An Di An Di. — VNS
AN DI AN DI – Vietnamese-French Fusion Restaurant
Address: 9 Rue du Liban, 75020 Paris, France
Tel: +33 9 81 269710
Opening hours: Dinner available from Tue to Sat. Lunch available only on Thu and Fri.
Comment: Delicious fusion Vietnamese-French cuisine, cosy venue, wallet-friendly price.