Special northern herbs
What we say:
It’s unfortunately often the case that Vietnamese restaurants located in tourist areas churn out bland food which is not representative of the true delights of local Hanoian cuisine. Of course, there are also frequent exceptions to this, and last night I was overjoyed to find an extremely good exception: AZenh.
The restaurant, which opened just a few weeks ago, is split over three floors: a small street-facing ground floor area with on-floor seating, and private rooms and additional standard seating on the upper levels. It’s tastefully decorated with black and white prints adorning the walls, quality dark-wood furniture and the obligatory tropical fish tank. It’s also clean.
So to the food. With some advice from the owner Duong we ended up ordering quite a feast. One of the good things about the menu is that you can order individual pieces or small portions of some of the dishes which gives you the opportunity to try a few different things without blowing the budget. For example, two small fish spring rolls cost 12,000 VND and two chicken wings are 20,000 VND. It’s also reasonably priced overall.
Another of AZenh’s differentiators is its use of special herbs from the north of Vietnam. I couldn’t tell you what they were called (the menu just says special herbs) but I can say that they taste good. It’s worth ordering at least one dish which uses these herbs and we went for the ‘roasted half fat half lean pork with special herbs’. Dip some pork in the salt/chilli/lime mixture (squeeze the lime in yourself) and roll it in a lettuce leaf with some herbs. Yum!
We also ordered shrimp spring rolls, fish spring rolls, roasted chicken wings in fish sauce, fried morning glory, steamed rice and beef steak. Everything came at once, apart from the beefsteak (remember if you want starters to come first you need to either order step by step or make it clear to your server) but that was fine by us. Every mouthful was delicious, aided by the dipping sauces that came with each dish.
We felt full after the first ‘course’ so by the time the beefsteak came were wondering how we’d manage it. But this was not a problem: we like bo bittet and this was a good one. Duong told us that the beef had been mixed with 12 different herbs and flavourings including apple and honey and it showed — it was supremely tender and full of flavour.
Although located slightly outside of the main Old Quarter restaurant hub, it’s still only a 5-minute walk from Hoan Kiem Lake and 10 minutes or so to bia hoi corner, so easily accessible. And with such tasty, good value Vietnamese food on offer, it’s worth making the trip for either lunch or dinner.
UPDATE March 2012: I went to A’Zenh at the weekend and was disappointed to see that it is now a buffet based restaurant. The buffet looked good but means the review above is no longer completely correct.
Contact details31 Lo Su, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
T: (04) 8587 2133 (0125) 278 1233
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