By Hoàng Vân Anh
Momiji is a relatively new Japanese restaurant in downtown Hà Nội, but unlike the tiny areas such establishments in Japan are known for boasting a large, roomy space with a choice of private rooms convenient for formal meetings.
The service is excellent from the time you sit down. The staff are very well trained and attentive to every request, remembering to keep your glass of refreshing green tea filled, which helps cleanse the palate for dishes still to come.
Private cubicles, which can be booked in advance, are a big plus, as is the restaurant’s convenient location. Guests can slow down, take a break from the chaos of the capital, and enjoy good company over good food.
The seating is Japanese in style, with short-legged tables and lowered flooring for the feet. The room we were in had a window that allowed plenty of natural light to stream in and looked out to a small garden, creating a pleasant vibe.
The menu was extensive, with an array of options, and convenient for big groups and different preferences. But I found it all rather overwhelming, as in Japan most restaurants have a specialty dish or ingredient.
FIRST SIGHT: Momiji’s spacious entrance and bar. Photo courtesy of Momiji Japanese Restaurant
Focusing on one thing and doing it well can definitely provide a competitive edge in attracting not only local people but also Japanese seeking a taste of home. But the chef at Momiji is clearly well-trained and able to execute so many dishes to a high standard.
The flavours found aren’t authentically Japanese, I don’t think, but rather have been tweaked to cater to Vietnamese taste buds. There were dishes I’ve never seen before, like stir-fried seafood and asparagus, but everything tasted great.
Dishes were beautifully presented and resembled works of art. The colours complemented each other, and I was most impressed by the sashimi plate.
Six types of fresh sashimi were presented on a bamboo mat over a large shallow dish of ice. The tuna was highlighted, placed on a taller blue cube. I was most taken by the whale sashimi, which has a unique, chewy texture not found in any other food. An abundance of shiso leaves came with the sashimi, as did nori (seaweed), but in my mind sashimi is eaten with shiso and not nori.
COOL CUTS: Momiji’s sashimi plate for four. Photo VNS Van Anh
The restaurant also had shrimp gyoza, with a meatiness that was quite surprising given how rare it is. While it wasn’t the crispiest gyoza you’ll ever come across, the fat filling made up for the texture. Their mochi ice cream ranks, I believe, among the best in town. The vanilla flavour really stood out.
I was looking forward to the grilled beef tongue, but it fell short of expectations. It was rather greasy, and the sauce didn’t shine through. Japanese tare (sauce or seasoning) is the key to a harmonious yakiniku (bbq) dish, but I didn’t taste either spring onion or salt in their negishio sauce.
TWO TOGETHER: Momiji salmon yaki onigiri (grilled rice balls) with cucumber pickles and miso soup. VNS Photo Van Anh
Their yaki onigiri (grilled onigiri rice ball) had additional salmon flakes and other toppings not found in typical plain yaki onigiri. But the choice was pretty smart, though, and it packed a lot of delicious flavours.
All in all, I thought Momiji recreated Japanese flavours relatively well. While its menu is adjusted to Vietnamese tastes, it still has brilliant dishes worth trying. VNS