Viet Nam News
by Nguyễn Mỹ Hà
I had wanted to take my guest out to have Hanoian bánh cuốn (steamed rice crepe with meat and fragrant mushrooms stuffing) because she is Vietnamese but living in France and absolutely adores the dish every time she returns to Hà Nội.
When I proposed it, however, she declined. My guest can enjoy herself when I take her out to small Hanoian eateries, where you can have only one dish, perfectly cooked but with no fancy tables or air-conditioning. But her French husband does not like the heat and humidity while dining. Instead, she proposed a place where the grapefruit salad, she said, was so good I had to try it.
The restaurant Hồng Ngọc Dynastie is the exact opposite of the typical Hà Nội casual dining experience. It’s new and clean and well-decorated. Most importantly, the mahogany hardwood chairs are comfy. And the spacious room was well-ventilated.
After we settled in, we began to talk about what’s on the menu.
The menu was manageable and if you eat there four or five times, you can probably try everything there is on the menu. But it’s the same dish that will make you return over and over.
We had the grapefruit shrimp salad for a starter (Gỏi tôm bưởi VNĐ98,000++). Thanks to the bumper crop of grapefruit in the south that can be exported to Europe and America, more and more orchards have been planting this juicy fruit and people in Hà Nội and northern cities now can enjoy the fruit as much as people in the south.
Việt Nam has many kinds of grapefruit from north to south, but not every grapefruit can be made into a salad. Some grapefruit in the north, if not ripe enough, can be either too sour or too bitter, or even biting. The best grapefruit in the north are sweet but not tasty when made into a salad.
Originally the grapefruit salad was made in Huế, where the chef used a specific grapefruit strain, which is sourly sweet, and mixed it with shredded grilled dried squid on charcoal. This dish takes a long time to make as you have to be strong enough to pound the grilled squid and then shred it. And the fruit must also be peeled and seeded and then torn into tiny little pieces of pulp. I had it before and it was great, but never could be patient enough to try to make it.
At Hồng Ngọc Dynastie, you can have the nicer sibling of the original dish: The grapefruit is seeded and divided into chunks, which enhances its juiciness and chewiness.
Since the salad starter was so impressive, other dishes followed suit easily.
My guest decided to try the Khay ăn thử (VNĐ220,000++), which had a little bit of everything on it and it makes you full after even just a small amount. Her husband chose the sticky rice wrapped in a lotus leaf. They ate to their hearts content and our conversation flowed very easily.
I decided to take chả cá or grilled fish (VNĐ180,000++), which was perfectly marinated, grilled and decorated on the plate. I absolutely loved it, but the only thing that stopped me from giving it a five-star rating with a little heart next to it, was that the restaurant did not use mắm tôm or shrimp paste, to enjoy on the side. The exquisite magical pink sauce brings the dish to a much higher level.
The waitress explained to me that they don’t use shrimp paste, and I translated that as, "We serve western travellers, so we don’t use the tangy sauce that may make the air full of the significant smell in an instant."
Since the first encounter with the place, I spent quite an amount of time trying to convince everyone in my family and my elderly parents to leave behind their prejudice against hotel restaurants.
I took all of the people I really cared about here in the following month for lunch. Even the most difficult person said they had great food, that tasted familiar and well-cooked, and of course, a great time.
The bún chả tray, (VNĐ110,000++) or grilled pork served with fresh rice vermicelli and various fresh aromatic herbs, is much better than its sibling at the Obama spot, where you have to stand in line to be served. I also loved the newly created escargot spring rolls, which were even better than the ones prepared by the chef who made it where we had it many times before.
It would be a mistake if you go to Hồng Ngọc Dynastie and decided to keep fit and skip the dessert.
The soft crispy banana cake with ice cream (VNĐ85,000+++) is delicious. I would love to have one right now! — VNS
Hồng Ngọc Dynastie Restaurant
30-34 Hàng Mành Street, Hà Nội
Tel: 024-3828 5053
Comment: Fine traditional food in a quiet comfy place