Aug 21 2013
Ha My beach, a five-kilometre amble north from beautiful An Bang, offers up a swathe of stunning castaway coastline, so perfect that the little A-lister more commonly known as the most luxurious hotel in Vietnam – the Nam Hai – slunk its perfectly manicured toes in to the sand and chased all the scraggy seadogs from its doorstep. All, that is, except for a small line of shabby palm-thatched seafood restaurants. The shabbiest of them all is Ngoc Mai, with its makeshift kitchen (and leaking roof) serving up some of the freshest and most delicious seafood we have found in Hoi An.
Ngoc Mai takes up the corner plot, instantly recognisable by crooked tables overflowing with empty plates, La Rue bottles and satiated Vietnamese beach dogs snoring beneath them. For those looking for a quieter affair, the shaded deckchairs that line the beach frontage don’t see much action, but in our opinion should be left for digestion. You’ll need to select each course from buckets of live clams, oysters, scallops and fish, and if you grab a deckchair, you’ll miss out on the entertaining kitchen action and convivial atmosphere.
The menu is a healthy mix of herb-infused marinades with the choice of steamed or grilled on the fan assisted barbecue. Bright orange tamarind crab, the freshest lemongrass and chilli oysters, succulent snapper smoked in banana leaf, melt in the mouth steamed squid and the CLAMS! Just $4 will buy you a kilo of cheesy grilled clams so delicious that you’ll quite likely book your return trip to Hoi An on the back of the taste of them.
The family running Ngoc Mai have got service and warm family hospitality licked. Free mineral water and peanuts are swiftly offered before a tour of the day’s catch, where you are expected to help pick out and oversee the weighing, and if you fancy it, the prep. The menu is cheap as chips and kids are king (even the stony faced seafood-haters will be eating out of the staff’s palms in minutes). Nothing is too much bother.
Dishes come when they are ready and seafood takes precedence. Be warned: a small side order selection of veggies will often require a trip down to the market and usually come at the same time as the complimentary watermelon and pineapple dessert plate. Refreshments are locally priced, beers come chilled, juices are fresh and they even have a small selection of imported wines, including a half-decent Chilean sauvignon blanc — G7 for under $10.
At weekends this place is packed with local regulars, a few in-the-know expat families and savvy Nam Hai and nearby Le Belhamy escapees. For a quieter experience, weekday late lunches are your best bet and it goes without saying that if seafood is not on your list, you’d be better off elsewhere.
Ha My beach is but a teeny section of the 30-kilometre coastal stretch from Cua Dai to Da Nang and beyond — it’s home to a massive stretch of seafood grazing opportunities, none of which we enjoy as much as Ngoc Mai. The White Sail, one of Hoi An old town’s most popular seafood restaurants, has just opened up on An Bang beach and along with its neighbour Lien Ca is a good other option if you are okay with missing out on those cheesy clams.
To find Ngoc Mai from the road, turn left at the An Bang beach traffic lights and follow the road for two kilometres, once you have passed Le Belhamy hotel take the first right down towards the beach and it’s the first restaurant on the left.
Ha My Beach, Hoi An
T: (0510) 384 3020
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