by Ollie Arci
Nestled on Bát Đàn Street in Hà Nội, The T-Art is celebrating its second birthday with a special event and a multitude of new upscale dishes added to the menu. The theme of the celebration is ‘Làng Chài’, or ‘Fishing Village’.
As you can expect, the inspiration is all things seafood, but, as always, through her array of gastronomic inventions, Chef Hải Anh elevates the dining to a unique experience. This is storytelling through food.
Co-founder Thái Thanh Thủy explains that each dish is designed to evoke a part of life in the fishing villages that dot the Vietnamese coast. With nets and driftwood, the scene is set the moment you walk in the door.
GREAT CATCH: In celebration of its second anniversary, The T-Art transports guests to a traditional fishing village. Photos by Ollie Arci
From the hors d'oeuvres to the dessert, each delicacy is thoughtfully planned, prepared and presented to tantalise your tastebuds and take you far away from the chaos of the capital city. The crackers are a play on the burnt rice at the bottom of the cooking pot, with a sprinkle of seafood suggesting the fisherman who has just returned with his haul.
This poetry continues through the meal, each course relying on fresh and simple ingredients to tell the tale. The starter, tiger prawn with Nha Trang mango pico de gallo, has a zingy mix of sweet and sour, complementing the tender flesh of the seafood.
Up next is the seared scallop with Phú Quốc pepper, daikon and sea foam. The dish is not just expertly presented, but designed in a way to transport the diner somewhere else. In this case, I’m whisked away to a tropical beach.
Thủy explains the blue circles of the plate are waves, bubbling with seafoam, washing up against the seared scallops, while a radish boat bobs along the coast. The experience oozes attention to detail, where each sense is given equal weighting. Aromas, flavours and visuals are blended in a way that will leave you pondering the meal long after it is finished.
Another important element is the wine, with a different bottle paired with each dish. In this case the scallops are accompanied by a crisp Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, again sticking firmly to the maritime trend. This is part of The T-Art’s overall mission to “elevate the concept of Vietnamese cuisine and attract a more international audience”, Thủy says.
By dispelling the notion that Vietnamese food mixes poorly with wine, the restaurant challenges long-held beliefs and brings the cuisine more in line with those found in Europe.
SWEET AND SOUR: The tiger prawn with Nha Trang mango pico de gallo is zingy and fresh.
LIFE'S A BEACH: The presentation of the scallops evokes a seaside setting.All is revealed
With more than a hint of ceremony, the main course arrives in a transparent glass dome, the mist inside concealing the next piece of art. On its removal, a waft of woodsmoke disperses, revealing the smoked sea grouper and assorted vegetables.
Accompanying the course are a trio of small bowls, with melon, a lightly-spiced caramel sauce and some steamed rice mixed with taro. The latter is a nod to Việt Nam’s recent history, and the need to mix such simple ingredients for sustenance during times of strife and hardship.
TENDER FISH: The grouper is lightly smoked with a spicy caramel sauce.
This particular dish is paired with the smooth and citric Rocky Gully Riesling, which is a perfect accompaniment to the lightly smoked fish.
Like the other courses, Chef Hải Anh explained that the “portions are smaller to balance the nutrients of each dish”. In a display of their ‘green’ credentials, the restaurant fights against waste, and this particular effort worked like a charm as all plates were scraped clean.
The dessert ends the meal on a playful note, the ‘childhood’ vanilla ice cream sandwiched between crunchy layers and topped with berries and sweets. Thủy sad the dish harked back to her youth, when ice cream was a beloved treat for Vietnamese youngsters, with some collecting chicken or duck feathers to trade for a precious scoop.
CHILD'S PLAY: The ice cream is a fun nod to youth.
As in celebration of the experience, the curtains come down with a fizz – otherwise known as an Italian Moscato – leaving a deliciously sweet memento on the palate as we head back to reality.
From its inception, the restaurant was designed to draw on traditional flavours and twist them into modern creations. It’s clear that Thủy, Chef Hải Anh and the rest of the team have an unbridled passion for food and an ambition to take traditional tastes to another level. The prices are reasonable and well worth it for the rare chance to enjoy the Làng Chài story.
So, if you want to escape Hà Nội for the evening, perhaps to take a seaside stroll, it’s cheaper and easier to visit T-Art.
MARITIME: All dishes incorporate locally-sourced fresh seafood.
GOOD ENOUGH TO EAT: Presentation is paramount for the staff at The T-Art.
The T-Art Restaurant
Address: 46b Bát Đàn Street, Hà Nội
Hours: 11am to 2:30pm and 6 to 10pm daily
Comment: Modern Vietnamese cuisine at affordable prices