"Although the humidity and haze of Hanoi is a million miles away from the chilly spring of central Europe, Hanoians can treat themselves to a taste of the Czech Republic at Hoa Vien Brauhaus restaurant, which just opened a new branch in the capital city. HCM City has been home to one branch of the Czech bar Hoa Vien since 2001 and Hanoi has had one for more than a decade. But that one was much smaller, located at 8 Ngoc Ha Street. The new building in Vietnam’s capital is much bigger and more modern. At the grand opening of the new building, I was allowed a sneak preview of the Czech bar and restaurant. It was packed with guests; Vietnamese people who had lived in the former Czechoslovakia and also many Czech nationals including Ambassador to Viet Nam Ivo Zdarek," writes Thanh Ha in The Vietnam News.
I’ve blogged Hoa Vien Brauhaus at 28 bis Mac Dinh Chi street long ago and I’ve often wondered about the sign attached to the wall outside. Is this the only pub in Saigon or Vietnam with Honorary Consul status? A Czech diplomat in Hanoi first told me about this pub’s status years ago, but I never gave the detail behind it much thought. It seems a lot of countries have Honorary Consuls where they can’t always afford or want to run full-on consulates. They’re not a joke, as you might assume upon seeing this steel plaque outside a pub. They seem to be about ‘smoothing relations’, ‘greasing palms’, yada-yada-yada… At least the Czechs chose a convivial spot to perform those tasks. The Brits’d probably choose a soap factory or an oil rig. Yawn… There’s more in this exchange at Interesting-People.org,
An Honorary Consul is (basically, and from memory) a non-govt employee awarded status by the visiting power. Typically, it’s a businessman living in the host country
The Honorary Counsel gets little but prestige out of the deal; party invitations, maybe a local tax exemption. One traditional perk was Dip. plates to beat parking tickets…
The most famous use was the small Balkan states …absorbed… by the USSR after WWII kept Honorary Consuls in place in the US for all those years. When the USSR collapsed, they were in place, already.
Honorary Consul is also a book and a film. I very much doubt there are any Honorary Vietnamese consuls anywhere, but are there? Is there a pho stall somewhere in Uruguay, Somaliland or Trasnistria greasing palms and smoothing relations in the name of the der faderland?
Cheers from Hanoi – been a blast. Couple of last minute appointments – sorry, OMIH – and then it’s back to the land of plenty. No more streets that shut by 9pm. Gone are the ubiquitous mien luon, bun oc and bun rieu stalls and back with hu tieu, banh canh cua and bun bo Hue. Same-same but a bit different, as they say. Meanwhile, a decent Hanoi bia hoi, like the one pictured above can be quaffed, and refilled ad infinitum for the price of two peanuts and a bag of gravel, at 68 Tran Quat street in Hanoi’s Old Quarter. Alternatively, head to my fave spot, Tang Bat Ho.
What’s in a name? I dunno, who does? Is Big Man Beer big? For big men? Can it make you big? In a country of quite small men I find that unlikely. Maybe they don’t drink enough? So, what’s so big about Big Man Beer? Well, whatever the thinking behind the brand, Big Man Beer is getting a wee bit bigger. There’s something of a microbrewery boom going on in Saigon. I’ve seen four different outfits open up within the past six months alone. Big Man Beer is a bit older, but seems to be spreading at a faster rate than the others. I stop by Cat Trang restaurant at 232 Pasteur Street in District 3 to see how big Big Man Beer really is.
I hit the 17,000VD bia den (black beer). It arrives with a fabulous crown of froth. Yum. It’s black, it’s cold, hoppy and light. They’re about all the adjectives I can manage I’m afraid. But, it’s really rather good. Up there with the excellent Hoa Vien and the Nguyen Du Krauthaus. The added bonus of quaffing at Cat Trang restaurant is the menu.
Unfortunately I’d just eaten and had no room for some of the more interesting creations, but on a return trip I could be tempted by fake weasel, stewed salamander with citronella, minced sand lizard with rice pancake, swan blood pudding or from the ‘Special Menu’, steamed tortoise with ginger (blood & gall to be served) or wild grilled Phan Thiet lizard. Any of which would make for a memorable dinner. Just out of interest, are lizards from the coastal town of Phan Thiet particularly well known, like say Orkney lamb or Kobe beef? Here’s the business card and directions for Cat Trang resto and the bill.
"Legends Beer is a destination, a Disneyfied version of a
German beer garden, by way of Viet Nam, as strange as that sounds. Everything is designed on
a big scale – there is a cavernous main hall, lined with long tables from
front to back that can hold 10, 15, even 20 people. On one side of the building
is the brewery with large copper vats of beer and in the middle of the room
there is a concert-size stage decorated with a mural of medieval knights
jousting, flanked by two huge projection screens playing a continuous loop of
music videos, everything from Phil Collins to Jessica Simpson to Vietnamese pop," reports Sara Schapiro in The Vietnam News.
This is Dai Viet Bia Den. It’s the new black beer in town. Den means black, geddit? As far as I know it’s also the only locally brewed dark beer available in a can in a supermarket. I found it on the shelves of Citimart supermarket on Hai Ba Trung street in District 1. Dai Viet is the latest local brand to hit Vietnam. I tried the bia vang (light lager) a month or so back and it was OK, but not noticeably different from any of the other numerous domestic beers available. However, I grabbed a can of bia den a week ago to try out. It’s good, gently hoppy, not heavy at all. A really pleasant chilled beer. Definitely my beer of choice from now on I reckon. It costs 8,700VD a can. In old world money that’s 31 whole new pence. As I remember in the UK 31p wouldn’t even buy me the pissiest, crappiest lager at the local offie.
Noodlepie is back on the black stuff at the 700 seater Lion Brewery for the third installment of this Saigon beer review. The ‘Lion’ sits next to the Caravelle Hotel at 11C Lam Son Square in District 1 and is a vast dimly lit hooch hangar that’s more cavernous cathedral than cozy bierkeller. Christmas tree lights flicker faintly above the innards of this booze refuge, but the lighting is set to permanent dusk inside the Lion’s mouth. Two giant brass vats behind the bar grab your attention as soon as you enter. The balconies above are filled with hop sacks and a flatscreen TV the size of a modest house dangles from a side wall.
The draught beer is produced using Kaspar Schulz brewing kit from Bamberg in Bavaria – "the world’s oldest manufacturer of brewery machinery and equipment with over 325 years of experience." This bodes well for a superior tipple. There are two choices; light Pilsner or the darker brew I ordered. You can order anything from 0.4l for 22,000VD (light), 24,000VD (dark) up to 1l steins for 48,000VD (light), 52,000VD (dark). A 20l ‘Party Keg’ take-out will set you back between 960,000VD and 1,040,000VD. The bar looks great, the beer looks great, but is it any good? Well, there’s less of a burnt hop hit to this chilled number than either the Asia Brewery or the (soon to be revisited) Hoa Vien Brauhaus. Mind you it’s not bad, I just like a beer with bollocks and there’s more snore than roar to the beer at the Lion Brewery. And at double the price of Asia Brewery’s better Munich beer, I’d be inclined to head there instead.
The food takes its lead from the Hoa Vien Brauhaus with a German/East European theme with seven German sausage dishes from 40,000VD and Grilled salted German pork knuckle for 99,000VD. I had a stab at the deep fried cheese for 45,000VD and received four sticks of breadcrumbed cheese and French fries – not bad as far as stodgey drinking food goes. Beer, napkins and grub at the Lion Brewery cost 75,000VD. View the business card and directions.
(Apologies for the shoddy snaps. My digital couldn’t cope with the low lighting.)
Ordering a beer at the two-storey Asia Brewery at 3 Le Van Huu Street in District 1 should come with a three minute warning. The order’s taken, bar man pours a glass of dark ‘Munich’ beer and here’s the catch. It sits at the bar warming for three minutes while all six waitresses preen themselves and gawk at passing motorbikes. Some people can run a mile or more in the time it took my beer to cover the 30 feet of space between ale pump and table. On a chokka night, such behaviour could almost (almost) be forgiven. However, on this visit there are more waitresses than customers. Oh well… How’s the beer?
It’s a smooth contender for sure, maybe too smooth. Plenty of burnt, dark, barley bite with a chilled European nose – am I coming over all Jilly Goolden-like? It’s no wooden bra though. If anything, it’s a little too soft for my taste, but a gentle touch does cope far better with the tropics than a hop fuelled beast from Blighty. I stumped up 12,000VD for this glass. The ‘almost obligatory’ pistachios – nice touch, never seen those nuts on a Saigon bar table before – and a wet towel added a further 7,000VD to the bill. Like the Pacific bia tuoi I blogged up yesterday, the food has potential. There are twelve tanks filled with seafood including prawns, crabs, turtle, river and Moray eels. However, if the beer service is anything to go by, don’t expect your food to arrive hot. The waitresses battled with the bill for five minutes and still managed to balls it up. Adding up one beer, nuts and towel is clearly harder than you might think. Service aside, this is a decent enough pint just don’t nip in for a quick one on the way home as you won’t find no brisk beer ‘ere. View the business card.
Over the next few days I’ll be blogging back the beers from various points around Saigon in search of the best pint in town. My first stop is Pacific Bia Tuoi at 15 Le Thanh Ton Street in District 1. This gargantuan supping spot must be one of the most popular stopping off points on the way home for what looks like half of the male population of Saigon. There’s a flimsy looking roof to protect imbibers from the elements and it’s packed from as early as 10am to 10pm, 7 days a week. It’s also known for its ‘drinking food’, but I’m not hungry, I’m only here for the beer.
The chilled ale pictured above certainly looks the business on a hot day in the sweatier end of the tropics. Straw light in colour, with just the faintest hint of CO2 in the fizz department. The price might have something to do with why this place is so popular; at 4,000VD for a 330ml lug, it’s bargain beer that anybody in the city can afford. A bottle of Carlsberg in the average Vietnamese bar is four times the price. Unfortunately, there’s a reason this stuff is cheap, it’s a wan, watery lifeless drinking experience. More of a limp lager than a brute strength beer. It’s far from being a world beer beater, it’s an adequate thirst killer, but that’s about all. On the other hand, the food could be fun. A couple of suckling pigs were spinning on the outdoor rotisserie as I entered and the menu is extensive. There’s a white board of specials which changes daily and included frog, snail, eel and goat dishes on this visit. View the business card and here.
After England inexplicably chucked it all away against Les bleus the other night I was looking for more than just comforting words. I needed food from home and only Britain’s fat, stodgey, lard-laden best would do. I needed Fish ‘n’ Chips. I found it in the Irish Pub – Sheridan’s Irish House – at 17/13 Le Thanh Ton Street in District 1. Sheridan’s menu is a boon for resident and transient lard-arsed Anglo-saxons. There’s a Dublin Fry-up (Eggs, bacon, potatoes, tomato, beans, sausages and fried bread) for 80,000VD, a Farmer’s Omelette (Potato, bacon and onions) for 55,000VD and then there’s Fish ‘n’ Chips. Britain’s national dish and a perennial fixture in pieman’s all time tucker top ten.
The beer battered Fish ‘n’ Chips – actually French Fries, not real chunky Brit-chips – comes with coleslaw, tartare sauce, lemon slices and mushy peas. The fish comes in separate bites not the ‘official’ one fillet version. The batter is solid and quite thick. It’s got a decent crunch to it, but lacks any distinctive taste. Fish and batter are the deciding factors when making quality Fish ‘n’ Chips and each should be bought and made with reverential care and attention. Sheridan’s fish wasn’t fresh on this visit.
As with every ‘beer-battered’ fish I’ve ever had, there’s not a sniff of hops in the mix. I’ve tried making beer battered fish myself and I’m convinced it’s impossible to retain any beer essence in the aftermath of a deep fat fryer fish funeral. Better just drink the stuff. The coleslaw is a mayo-heavy mess, but the Mushy peas are a ‘triffic score in Brit-food-free Vietnam even if they aren’t ‘chip shop style’. As for the ‘chips’, they had been cooked earlier and re-heated…. Oh dear… that’s just plain lazy. The tartare sauce was bland and lacked bite. However, the vital salt and vinegar accompaniments are on tap as are HP Sauce and Heinz Tomato Ketchup.
After that slaggin’ you might think I hated it – I didn’t. This is good comfort food in an atmospheric, homely, traditional pub setting. It’s a reasonably faithful rendition, just not a brilliant one. When it comes to your national dish you’ve gotta have some standards and this is just average. It wouldn’t cut it on the streets of Britain, but at 85,000VD it costs the same as a small town England chippy. A pint of Amber draught is 50,000VD. The Vietnam Brewery started brewing Amber, Vietnam’s first and only Irish Stout style beer, in 2003. There’s less of a hoppish bitter bite to a pint of Amber than any of its Irish relatives. It’s worth a snort, but it’s not a patch on the dark beer at the Hoavien Brauhaus. View the business card.
In other news…
‘OBAN FISH AND CHIP RESTAURANT’ IS THE COD’S BOLLOCKS
Photo nicked from The Oban Times
Via the power of google juice, there’s mild elation in the air at pieman towers today. I discovered to my delight that Rick Stein, my favourite BBC TV Chef of late, agrees with me here that a little known chippy on the west coast of Scotland serves the world’s finest Fish ‘n’ Chips.
Unfortunately, Oban isn’t always convenient for a day trip from Saigon. The two-storey Sheridan’s will have to do for comfort nosh following any further calamitous England appearances at Euro 2004. Fish ‘n’ Chips can also be found at Al Fresco’s and The Underground. I haven’t tried them yet, perhaps I should. Any top tips for a decent expat fill, belch them into the comment box.