There are three components to the perfect fish ‘n’ chips — fresh white fish, a light, crisp batter and some tasty chips (not French fries). Via Australian recipes and Vietnamese kitchens, the UK’s quintessential dish often takes on a distinct flavour in Vietnam, and is no longer served alongside delights such as mushy peas in traditional British working class style. The sea bass of the east, barramundi, tends to replace cod, haddock and plaice, while lime takes over from the all-important wedge of lemon. Vinegar is hard to come by, too, even though Sarson’s is sold in Vietnam. As we were told at one local chippy, “In Vietnam, we don’t have vinegar with fish ‘n’ chips.” Hmmm.
So, with a penchant for that perfect fish ‘n’ chips experience, that taste of the British seaside, we scoured the restaurants of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City to see if there were a few purveyors able to satisfy that craving that most other restaurants can’t reach. The dish, we discovered, rarely came wrapped in newspaper. Fortunately our reviewers were able to recreate a pretty good night out at the takeaway on these otherwise chippy-less shores.
40 Lily Rd, An Phu Superior Compound, Q2, Ho Chi Minh City
Fish: barramundi (Asian sea bass)
On the side of the Saigon River during happy hour, we receive a plate with a robust, batter-coated fillet, campfire stacked chips and a slightly tousled side salad. The first to go were the chips — browned “almost perfectly crispy” on the outside and “oozy potato” on the inside, “like mashed potatoes”. The fish was the juiciest our review crew tasted, “bursting with flavour” with a “nice smooth texture”, complemented by the creamy tartar. But the “beery” batter ended up with the short stick, “caught between the bright flavour of the fish and the tangy tartar”. It’s too bad, because it was shaping up to be our favourite fancy chippy otherwise.
Bread & Butter
40/24 Bui Vien, Q1, Ho Chi Minh City
Fish: basa (Asian catfish)
Along the lines of the saying that “the clothes make the man”, we’ve always believed that “the chippy makes the chips”. Well, obviously. But even in this case, where the chips were admittedly frozen-food company made, and served alongside a paper cup’s worth of unadorned mayo, Bread & Butter’s cool pub aura still carried the day. With the Ramones on the speakers and three Huda-battered fillets on the plate in front of us (not to mention the Huda bottles nearby), this felt like the real thing, taken an interesting turn on its 10,000km journey around the world.
46-48 Ton That Thiep, Q1, Ho Chi Minh City
“Ah,” Scotsman Derek Milroy said, “this tastes like a proper chippy.” The square-shaped barramundi fillet looked a bit suspect until our reviewers bit in and discovered a “buttery taste” to the beer batter and a “nice balance between delicate, flaky fish and dense batter”. The chips crunched under the “coleslaw-y tang” of Mamma’s special sauce, and the simple, “onion-smothered and vinegar-drowned” salad felt like a healthy break but still in keeping with the sharp flavours of the rest. In all, this was our Ho Chi Minh City delegation’s favourite fry-up, although one of our 3pm samplers couldn’t help wondering if it tasted better because we were drinking a beer with it.
Boomarang Bistro Saigon
107 Ton Dat Tien, Q7, Ho Chi Minh City
The wood and industrial metal atmosphere of Boomarang, overlooking the manicured splash of Crescent Lake, proves the perfect setting for Ho Chi Minh City’s most fusion-y fish ‘n’ chips. The plate comes out with a balanced-meal spread of accoutrements — from mashed potatoes or hand-cut potato wedges to a small radicchio-based salad to the guacamole piled atop the modest-yet-dignified slab of fish. The combination is surprisingly complementary, and everything on the plate tasted fresh and healthy, even the batter, which our reviewers felt was a touch light and unimpactful. But overall, it was a unique and satisfying experience, leaving one of our reviewers feeling as if he “just ate a healthy meal”.
58 Ton That Thiep, Q1, Ho Chi Minh City
Now when we are talking about fish ‘n’ chips UK-style, we cannot forget to mention that in little Britain it is normally accompanied by an alcoholic drink, mostly beer. After a few ales we headed to the Drunken Duck downtown to soak up that fare. The “old school” breadcrumb batter, salty chips and homemade sauce — which I don’t think we could call tartar — did the job. The sauce consists of mayo, mustard, olive oil and eggs according to the chef.
“That tastes like deviled egg sauce dude,” commented Kyle Phanroy, our resident stateside fish ‘n’ chips connoisseur. “It’s very eggy.” The fish had a “real crispy taste” and we demolished it quick smart. “Real pub grub” in a British-style pub.
Jaspa’s Ho Chi Minh City
33 Dong Khoi, Q1, Ho Chi Minh City
The last ingredient we expected to find on our culinary journey was wasabi, but it was at Jaspa’s that a little piece of Japan was awaiting. So we had our barramundi wrapped in tempura with a cheeky mix of wasabi.
But what about the tartar sauce? This was also a little special with mayo, anchovies, capers and pickles, for a “nice sour touch to the crispy fillet of fish”. We were a tad greedy and ordered the main course which was “a fair portion” — the lunch price is just VND165,000. Did I mention wasabi was one of the ingredients?
2 Hai Trieu, Q1, Ho Chi Minh City
At the foot of the spectacular Bitexco Tower stands Hog’s Breath, an Australian boozer, not somewhere you would expect to eat a flank of shark. And you can’t. But if the boss had his way…
The establishment instead opts for the barramundi, farmed in the Mekong, with Hog’s Tail curly fries. But as manager Jay Schlitz explains, “In Australia we normally use flank of shark for our fish. I reckon it’s 10 times better than this.”
Maybe he’s right, but the barramundi cannot be scoffed at for “a nice-sized portion” which “melted in the mouth without a strong fishy taste” — some people’s cup of tea. Talking of tea, it seems the “fish tea with the traditional cuppa” after your fish supper is not the done thing in Saigon, neither is mushy peas for that matter.
4th Floor, Hanoi Towers, 49 Hai Ba Trung, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
Batter: breadcrumb and beer-based
Cost: VND185,000 / VND245,000
They're not British, the people behind Jaspa’s — but being descendants of Brits, we reckoned the Australian owners of this long-established fine establishment would be the established Hanoi leaders at British establishment cuisine. So when we made our first visit we opted for the lunch version of good old fish chips. The chips came out as something the Americans would be proud of, and the fish was battered in bread crumbs. Shock horror!
In fairness, the real version of the dish was on the main menu. So we returned for a second bash at Britain's quintessential comfort food fare. And oh how good was that beer batter? To die for. There's no cod or haddock here. Importing the good stuff costs an arm and a veritable leg. But the white flesh barramundi more than fills that Oh I Do Like to be Beside the British Seaside gap.
25 Hang Be, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
Fish: something white — maybe basa
Le Pub has long done a great British-style fish and chips — in the past they even had thick-cut chips on the menu rather than the ubiquitous French fries. Unfortunately, the British-style chips have been substituted for their American compadre.
What held the dish together was the fish. Perfectly battered, crisp on the outside and fluffy underneath, the overall texture and taste was just about on the nugget. They could have won gold, at least for Hanoi, if they’d not resorted to the fries. Shame, because Le Pub was well on its way to a Man of the Match award.
R & R Tavern
256 Nghi Tam, Tay Ho, Hanoi
Fish: something white — maybe basa
For price versus quality, R&R’s pub food really hits the spot. It’s tasty, it’s full on well-and-proper comfort fare, and it doesn’t burn an unwelcome hole in the wallet. Unfortunately the fish and chips didn’t quite do it for this reviewer. While it was tasty enough — the whole plate was polished off with a bottle of beer to wash it all down with — the fries lacked that crispness as did the batter. What saved the day was the fish. It oozed with taste.
It was just everything else that didn’t quite work.
Don’s Tay Ho
16 Quang An, Tay Ho, Hanoi
Cost: not available
It was after trawling the streets of Hanoi and discovering a paucity of restaurants serving fish ‘n’ chips that we approached Don’s. The West Lake eatery doesn’t have fish ‘n’ chips on the menu, but as with so many other dishes, they were prepared to make it to order. What came out was finger-lickingly, mouthwateringly good. Oh if only everywhere could make it like that.
Served up in an origami-style, newspaper-created mini boat — a nice touch — the chips were thick cut, the tartar sauce was homemade, and the beer batter on the barramundi was perfectly crispy. They even had some cider vinegar on the side to add some acidity to that oh-so-subtle balance of flavours. So good was this dish that, despite being prepared by a Canadian and a Vietnamese chef, it had the UK written all over it. The best version in Hanoi.