Italy is always going to remind me of Silvio Berlusconi, football, a certain red capped plumber and of course, the food! In Venice at the age of 12 or so, I was too young to remember how much, or of what I wolfed down in detail, but I do remember the smell of cream and tomatoes cooking, my first glimpse of an entire cured pork leg and the discovery of pistachio ice cream before nearly getting lost in St Mark’s Square. But the spirit of Italy for me will always lie in its warmth, its cuisine and its great hospitality. Looking forward to revisiting those memories, we aimed for Le Loi with our sights firmly set on Casa Italia.

 

In Britain spaghetti bolognese or “spag ‘bol” is practically a national dish and a far cry from its origin, so steering clear of it altogether we went with a cross section of dishes picked from the somewhat limited menu (we were told a longer one is in the works). A starter of antipasto arrived with a decent portion of freshly baked foccaccia to scoop it all up with. The bread was also accompanied by a sweet tomato dip laced with cream and a short tumbler of warm carrot and vegetable puree that a friend dubbed “Thanksgiving flavoured”. The tasty and varied selection of meats was delicious and the perfect way to start the meal, although the artichoke garnish had the taste of tin about it and was left largely untouched.

 

A Bit of a Porker

 

Deciding against the safer choice of pizza and ravioli my friends went for, I chose the scaloppine, a pork fillet with mixed mushrooms, garden peas muddled in sage and thyme and cooked off in cream and lots of other delicious Italian things — it sounded delicious.

 

It wasn’t. I was expecting the rare luxury of porcini and chanterelle, maybe even the meatiness of a portobello, anything in fact, instead of what I actually received, which were thinly sliced nam rom or straw mushrooms. Grown on rice straw beds and picked while still immature, they resemble tiny alien eggs, and unlike Sigourney Weaver, are found in most markets in Asia. Essentially they are cheap, and you’ll probably find them in your next bowl of canh chua. 

 

Eyeing my fellow diner’s ravioli with jealously, I remained positive and bit into the pork. Tough and coated in something starchy, which when covered in cream turned gooey and eventually ended its life stuck to the roof of my mouth, the dish was lost. Even the peas, bright green as they were, seemed as let down as I was.

 

Suffice it to say, I wasn’t delighted. My dining partners on the other hand were pleased with their choice of pizza and ravioli, and after stealing some, I was as green as my rock hard peas. The pizza melted on my tongue, the ravioli filled my mouth with the fresh bite of homemade pasta, spinach and ricotta, the two filling ingredients more than able to take on the seasoned pasta with neither partner beaten senseless.

A Happy Ending

 

A free shot of lemoncello was placed in front of each of us — it is a vicious mix of 30 percent proof alcohol and lemon zest, made largely in southern Italy. It’s definitely a palette cleanser. Although it may have dissolved any fillings we might have had, it was a nice touch, and in addition to the attentive service, another nod to that famous Italian hospitality. Ending the night, a light panna cotta, an Italian cooked cream, was served, and the cinnamon promised in the menu came through which, along with the lemon fire I’d just ingested, left me tongue tied, but in a good way. It also helped to ease the disappointment of the pork.

 

The restaurant itself is a friendly little place with a confusing upstairs décor; one too many style decisions, perhaps. So booking a table downstairs is advisable. And although the location might be the reason for the somewhat top-end price tag, other Italian restaurants are doing the same thing at lower prices. Although my dish was a bust, my dining partners were happy with their choices. A recent change of management may soon change the fate of this eatery, so with a price adjustment and some more attention to detail, I’m not willing to write it off just yet.

 

The Prices

Antipasto Rustica all'Italiana VND300,000

Scaloppine VND310,000

Panna Cotta VND130,000

Red Wine VND90,000



The Verdict

Food: 9

Service: 14

Décor: 8

 

Food, Decor and Service are each rated on a scale of 0 to 15.

13 — 15 extraordinary to perfection

10 — 12.5 very good to excellent

8 — 9.5 good to very good

5 — 7.5 fair to good

0 — 4.5 poor to fair

Word reviews anonymously and pays for all meals

Mystery Diner

The Mystery Diner is a person hailing from a country that may or may not be Vietnam. S/he can be seen frequently in the restaurants and cafes of Hanoi and HCMC, searching for the most delicious meals each city has to offer. Look for the masked figure in a cape, lurking in the darkest corners of your neighbourhood com tam or pho joint.

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