One day last week, the G man said ‘shall we go for dinner?’. What a lovely phrase, and one I don’t utter nearly often enough. Of course I said ‘of course!’ and, as it turned out, he had somewhere in mind – The Hanoi Bike Shop. Who am I to argue with such inspired genius?
It was a gorgeous day, and we noticed a free table on the street outside, so when we went in I asked if we could sit there. We were asked if we wanted to go upstairs and try the balcony instead – I had no idea there was a balcony, and I was all over that suggestion like a cheap suit. If you get the opportunity to go out there and have your dinner in a sunbeam, do it.
As well as the basket you can see in the first picture, there are little cards on the tables explaining a bit about the restaurant, the food and the seasonings you can add*. This is a nice touch, particularly for anyone who isn’t familiar with Vietnamese food and doesn’t know a) what these things on the table are and b) how much of these things they should add to their food, if any.
Our waiter’s name was Fred, and he brought us a jar of that chili and lemongrass oil. Oh, my. It was super spicy, and fragrant, and I took a picture of it.
The menu is one of those kinds, where you look at it and feel that you will be incapable of choosing from it, because everything sounds so good. It’s compact, which makes the process easier, but a certain amount of ‘ooh’ing and ‘what do you think’ing is still necessary.
We got some summer rolls to share – there are two options, and we choose the ones with pork, cucumber and peanut. I’m not a great fan of nuts in any form, but it’s tricky to eat Vietnamese and not have peanuts. As an addition to these summer rolls, the peanuts were spot on – they add a chunky crunch as well as a savoury and (unsurprisingly) nutty flavour.
I’ve made my own summer rolls before, and the sticky, chewy texture of the rice wrappers is something that lives in a special part of my brain now, and sometimes leaps out and shouts ‘YOU NEED ME’. So since there were some on the menu, it was a given that I’d be ordering them, and I was glad the G man wanted to get in on the summer roll action, too. Sharing is nice.
The G man ordered a lamb and sweet potato curry, which came to the table in this cool pot. What a treat – sweet, mild but complex, topped off with fresh mint, and the lamb was so tender.
My choice was the caramel hake – as recommended by Miss J after her first visit to the restaurant. It was amazing – sweet (as you’d imagine), creamy and spicy, with firm fish that flaked away at a gentle press of the chopsticks. It was finished with coriander, spring onion and chili slivers.
We ordered one portion of jasmine rice between us, which was more than enough – I’d asked as we were ordering, and Fred said that one should be fine, and if it wasn’t they could always whip some more up for us. There was no need whatsoever – the portion was extremely generous.
Then I took more photos of my dinner, once I’d piled some rice in a bowl and some of the fish and sauce on top. I drizzled in some of the chili and lemongrass oil for a spike of heat, but it didn’t need it – it was perfect as it arrived. Sometimes, though, you just need to add some really hot chili to your food and relish the sensation of an army of fire ants – that is, ants which are literally on fire – marching their way across your tongue. In a good way.
The Hanoi Bike Shop is most noted for two things – their home made tofu, and their pho. I have tried neither, which does seem to be an oversight, but with so many great things to choose from it is easy to see why I’ve been distracted. I’m particularly interested in their tofu, and am working up to asking if I can go in and see how it’s done. Have you ever arranged a kitchen visit with one of your favourite restaurants? I’d love to know if that’s a real thing that people do!