Is this the most authentic Vietnamese restaurant in Dubai?
We took a trip to Hoi An to find out
Hoi An, situated in the Shangri-La and named after a tiny fishing port on the coast of Vietnam, prides itself as one of the only restaurants in Dubai to serve up authentic Vietnamese food.
A couple of years ago, I spent a summer travelling (and eating) my way around Vietnam and I fell in love with Hoi An. It's a tiny town famous for it's hundreds of skilled tailors, the beautiful old canals, it's picturesque night lantern markets, and of course, Hoi An is famous for delicious food.
Vietnamese food is loved because of the use of fresh and flavoursome ingredients. I'm obsessed with the strong flavours...give me anything with ginger, coriander or lime and I'll be a very happy customer. So after hearing some rave reviews, I was particularly keen to go down to see what all the fuss was about.
Here are five things I loved about Hoi An (the restaurant...not the place).
1. The romantic ambiance
This is a small, intimate, restaurant. The decor is simple with a strong Vietnamese influence; dark wooden furniture, a dark orange colour scheme throughout, and the staff dress in traditional colourful clothing. The typical French shutters on the windows, (a small nod to the French influence on Vietnamese culture) the low, soothing music and the snug atmosphere all add to the romance of the place.
2. The perfect bite-sized starters
This is simple Vietnamese food at its absolute best. Five little bite-sized starters were plated together, giving a small taster of each but definitely leaving you hungry for the mains. I absolutely loved the lobster ravioli with mango, and the crispy Vietnamese seafood spring rolls were incredible, so light and crunchy, and super tasty in the middle...such a treat! Served alongside a chicken and shrimp rice paper crepe and grilled duck with foie gras; the starters set the bar very high for the rest of the meal.
3. The ridiculously good Pho noodles
How to judge a good Western chef? Sometimes chefs can be tested by asking them to cook something as simple as an omelette; an easy task but one in which a great chef can shine. And maybe that's a good approach to judging the food here... (except with noodles, not an omelette). Pho noodles are one of the simplest and most common Vietnamese dishes; we were served Pho Bo Viet Nam, which is traditional Vietnamese soup made with deliciously tender Angus beef (or chicken) and assorted veg. On the side we had the option of chillies, 'the hottest you'll find,' a bunch of fresh coriander and a wedge of lime. In traditional style, the beef has been stewed for six hours before it made it's way to our plates; for such a simple dish, it was really delicious, it felt light and savory, yet full of flavour. If the chef was being judged by the noodles here, he would pass with flying colours.
4. The mains were cooked to absolute perfection
Like the starters, a combination of three specialities arrived on one plate. Oven baked sea bass with kumquat, compote and baby cress, pan-fried whole king prawns with bean sprouts, spring onions and garlic and five-spice grilled baby chicken with sauteed green beans, kaffir lime and a homemade pepper sauce. A large bowl of fried rice with sweetcorn (which is a particular staff favourite) served in a lotus flower accompanied the mains. Think tasty, wholesome, good food with flavours coming from every corner of the dish.
5. The set menu is spot on
The menu offers two set menu options as well as a very extensive main menu. The Hanoi set menu was a brilliant way to sample a lot of what Hoi An has to offer. We were first served a pure green shot of pineapple and ginger, then an amuse-bouche, (another nod to the French influence); a zucchini roll with chicken, shrimp and sweet chilli, five delectable bite-sized starters, some of the best Pho noodles in Dubai, a lemon sorbet to cleanse the palette, (much needed if you throw in all the chillies!) three well-portioned mains and a mango soup with coconut ice cream dessert. This was the Hanoi set menu, and an absolute must if you're looking for a true Vietnamese dining experience.
... And one thing we would change on the set menu
The dessert that came as part of the taster menu was a little disappointing. Earlier I had spied a couple of drool-worthy desserts on the menu and was secretly hoping to try the Vietnamese style creme brule with sesame seeds and candied ginger tuile or the chocolate fondant with raspberries and raspberry sorbet. We were served chilled mango soup with coconut milk and coconut ice cream; I can't fault the taste, and it was very light which would please some. But I have such a sweet tooth I was really hoping for something I could really sink my teeth into. Oh well, if I'm going back for the noodles, I guess I'll have to sample the rest of the desserts when I go back there too.
The important bits:
A tasting menu like the one we had costs AED 348 per person.
Starters: From AED 62 to AED 82
Mains: From AED 125 to AED 185 (or you can splash the cash for a live cooking station with Canadian Lobster for AED 425)
Desserts: AED 52
To book and for more info: Call 04 4052703