Mediterranean splashes into Old Quarter

Published: 29/06/2011 04:59

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Efe Okogu takes a break from Vietnamese food to see if the latest Mediterraneo location is as good as everyone says.

When I heard about a new Italian seafood restaurant with a Vietnamese chef managed by a half-French half-Italian lush, I was struck by the increasing multi-cultural nature of Ha Noi. There are restaurants and bars from every continent here in the capital and some cuisine, Italian being particularly popular, are moving beyond generic grub to offer specialities to an increasingly sophisticated appetite.

Which is another way of saying as great as pho xao, banh cuon and sot vang are, every once in a while one feels the need to treat the palette to something non-Vietnamese, and Ha Noi provides choices in spades.

Located at 3 Nguyen Huu Huan Street, a stone’s throw from the busy intersection beneath the Chuong Duong Bridge, the restaurant is the third Mediterraneo to open in Viet Nam – another can be found on the other side of Hoan Kiem Lake on Nha Tho Street while a third is in Hue city.

Chronically adverse (allergic?) to chain restaurants (the bland taste and overpriced dishes of Pho 24 being a prime example), I wasn’t expecting that much from the experience but I was intrigued by the fact that this branch is dedicated exclusively to seafood.

I sat down at the bar downstairs with a friend and his fiance, and we each had a glass of CampoGrande – antinori (VND65,000) as we perused the menu. It was a mild citrus flavoured white that put us in a chatty mood.

We ordered three fresh home-made pasta dishes: Chitarra alle Vongole (Spagetti with clams, chilli and white wine – VND110,000), Garganelli ai Moscardini (Garganelli with stewed baby octopus and chilli – VND115,000), and Penne alla Siciliana (Penne with swordfish, eggplants and tomatoes – VND150,000).

The manager seated us upstairs, past the aquarium filled with lobsters, eels and fish (customers can pick their dinner and I was tempted to do so by one of the Sand crabs who looked at me funny) on the mezzanine floor into a masterfully designed cosy little alcove.

I praise the decor so highly because despite being a small space with closed windows and drawn curtains, the feeling evoked was the exact opposite. This is due to several clever factors: the beautiful tiles on the walls shaped to represent sand, sea and sun; the bright yet subdued amber lighting; the stone washed white chairs, shaped like those found on beaches but ergonomically designed for dining; the orange and blue colour scheme of the walls; and the Italian reggae that emanated from hidden speakers. If you squint your eyes, you could almost imagine you were in the Mediterranean.

The pasta was a visual feast to behold and once we dug in, sumptuous and perfectly prepared. The fact that it was all home-made in the restaurant and not pre-packaged in a factory only added to the psychological pleasure. In a flight of poetic fancy, my friend suggested the sweat of a good cook is probably infused with the thousands of flavours he/she has worked with and that’s what we were tasting. Whatever the case, it was al dente (firm but not hard) and our collective moans of pleasure encouraged us to share the three dishes Vietnamese style. I particularly enjoyed the spicy Garganelli and devoured far more than my fair share.

As we ate we discussed the vagaries of life as a foreigner in Viet Nam and how places like this, pricy though they may be, were essential to keeping one connected in some small way to home. I congratulated them on their upcoming marriage at which point they asked me when or if I’d make such a commitment. Thinking of my new girlfriend, I decided the conversation was no longer possible without serious levels of inebriation.

 

We ordered a bottle of red (I forget which) but the very European manager shook his head and tutted in disappointment at our choice. He insisted we have a bottle of BlueViolet – Marconi Lacrima di Morro D’Alba (VND575,000) with the promise that if we were not wet with desire afterwards, we need not pay. He strung a series of improbable syllables together describing the taste but as it was either in Italian, French, Klingon or a combination of the three, we simply nodded and bowed to his wisdom.

The wine arrived and after the customary swirling, sniffing and swilling so as to appear cultivated, I downed my glass with gusto. It was definitely an interesting blend of fruity flavours. My friend, perhaps with firsthand knowledge considering the varied life he’s led, described it as being ‘reminiscent of the juices of Jessica Alba’. Fortunately, his fiance was out of earshot at the time.

(Source: Viet Nam News)

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