currently: listening to 'Clean' by Taylor Swift
|Cafe Hanoi [photo: Facebook]|
As the only meat eater among three other vegetarian friends that night, I was fine with sharing vegetarian plates between us four. Because unlike many restaurants that may only offer two or three vegetarian dishes (at most), Cafe Hanoi has a good selection of eight or nine vegetarian plates. This meant we had to spend some time carefully considering our options - after all its very rare to have that much vegetarian choice in a normal restaurant.
After running through the menu many times, we finally settle on two tofu based dishes and an eggplant side dish with a couple of portions of rice. While we wait and catch up, we also get an order of vegetarian summer rolls, and I get myself a virgin cocktail called the 'Sweet Spiced Mule'.
What I loved about them both the starter and the drink was how light and refreshing they were. The roll was filled with fresh ingredients such as cabbage, mint and daikon, had a satisfying crunch sound when you bit through the rice paper. Squeeze a bit of fresh lime juice and it makes all the difference. And this drink, with a ginger beer base, sweet spices and garnishes of lime and mint, was a true summer-appropriate thirst quencher. Around the table we all took one sip responded with "Oh! That's really good!"
For our mains, we had ordered one tofu dish braised in coconut milk with tumeric, shittake and peanut, and a second tofu dish which was pressed, with egg noodles and chinese cabbage. Normally I would never pick two tofu dishes together as there's always the concern that they'll be too similar, but this thankfully wasn't an issue. I did however feel slightly concerned about the size of the dishes which seemed a bit small to share between four of us. But either we are small eaters or the two servings of rice we got on the side helped satisfy us enough.
The favourite dish for dinner was definitely the confit eggplant with soy, garlic and coriander. It was sweet, juicy, tasted amazing and was probably the closest to having a meat substitute instead of the tofu. It really felt like I was eating a home-cooked meal.
After feeling pretty satisfied from dinner, we were already prepared in our minds for dessert. The waitress suggested that in this Vietnamese restaurant we should try the Vietnamese dessert, banh troi tau - a dish with sesame dumpling, peanuts and coconut. She also suggested getting ourselves a hot soy milk donut each, because they were very cheap and quite small in size (about a golf ball size). It came with caramel sauce too but she personally suggested that ordering the doughnuts with a side of sago sauce was a better way go. It wasn't even an option on the menu to get that sago yoghurt sauce but I'm always relying on the staff to know best.
The dessert soup was the first to arrive, still warm in its traditional porcelain bowl. The soup was like sugar water, balanced by a generous spoonful of coconut milk. The glutinous dumplings were delicious with the red bean paste centre. Biting into it was of it mixed with coconut cream was a good combination of sweetness.
And lastly, we finished our meal with a hot soy milk cinnamon doughnut each with the caramel and specially requested sago yoghurt sauce, as suggested by the waitress. Wow, was she right on that sago sauce too. The doughnuts, already covered in cinnamon and sugar, became extra sweet when you added the caramel, and after a while all that sugar became too much. Sago sauce softened the sweetness a little and was a bit like having custard instead. When she returned to check up on us, she told us that "I take [that sago sauce] home with me all the time." I don't blame her because each of us probably would too, as we discussed the different ways we could use that sago sauce. (Strawberries, cupcakes, carrot cake, other baked goods - the options are endless).
Overall, this little brick restaurant on the fringe of Britomart has more than two small red wooden doors would suggest. If you and a group of vegetarian friends love some fresh Vietnamese food, and are open to the idea of sago sauce, this place should be your next gathering this summer season.
Food Tour Party review:
Money friendliness - Mid-range cost for a Britomart restaurant, but more a pay day treat.
Purchase fun - the waitress was pretty helpful in guiding us through the best of the menu, and outside of the menu.
Deliciousness factor - Order the sago sauce, the eggplant and the Sweet Spiced Mule drink. And then send it to me.