‘Israel’ and ‘America’ are loaded words, designations that beyond the countries they entitle have connotations, both positive and negative. Students of political correctness and people on the wrong side of ‘The War on Terror’ may take umbrage, boycotting anything to do with either country. While others, entranced by ‘The Land of the Free’ and the only country in Asia that allows gay marriage, may look at both states through warmer eyes.
So when a restaurant in Hanoi sets itself up as being, like the owner, Israeli and American, it is bound to have its dissenters. It is also going to have its fans. To create something that is potentially so divisive is bold and requires balls. Yet balls is something that Daluva’s restaurateur, Shay Lubin, has in big supply. More importantly, as a chef, and a particularly creative chef, he believes in cuisine and the mix of tastes filling up his menu.
But this article is about cuisine. And for those dissenters out there, this should be borne in mind. Two recent visits have made one thing clear — the offerings at Daluva are among the best in the Tay Ho area. It’s up there with the likes of Da Paolo, Don’s, El Gaucho, Bluebird and recent newcomer, Cousins.
Burgers and Chickpeas
On my first visit I was chaperoned by the restaurant’s management. “You’ve got to try our burger,” I was told. And I did, together with a moreish and very spicy fish sauce-based Bloody Mary, topped with cocktail stick-skewered salami.
The burger (VND180,000) — which came with all the trimmings — was cooked rare as ordered and was perfectly juicy. A delight. My quibble was with the bun. Slightly sweet, more like a brioche. For me it worked perfectly — I’m a sucker for something a little different — but I know that purists out there will take offense. When I asked Shay, he told me that in terms of price, quality and its ability to fit the juiciness of the patty, it was the best bun he could find in Hanoi.
My second visit was with friends, uninvited by the restaurant, the bill paid for out of our own pockets. I’m not an aficionado when it comes to Middle Eastern or North African-inspired cuisine — ultimately you have to have lived somewhere on the Mediterranean rim to get a true feel for it. But I know it well enough to taste quality and to have a nose for the spices that run through the cuisine.
The litmus test was my dining partners. Both Vietnamese, both well-travelled, but both with little knowledge of cuisine from Dia Trung Hai. Fortunately one of the waiting staff had enough menu knowledge to explain all the dishes to them in Vietnamese.
From Israel to America
Naturally we went for the Israeli platter (VND300,000 / VND650,000), which is perfect for sharing. Well-presented and coming with pita bread on the side, my dining colleagues gradually sifted their way through all the ingredients — hummus, baba ghanoush, pickles, labneh, tahini, matbucha, Morrocan carrot salad. I found myself showing them how to eat a falafel in pita bread — they loved it, particularly the hummus, which they realised could be eaten with anything. For me the standout was the baba ghanoush — so smoky I could have eaten it all night — and the homemade goat’s cheese labneh. Tart like curd cheese yet with that unique taste only found in goat’s cheese, it was phenomenal.
The Moroccan-spice beef koftas (VND175,000) were also well-received. So quickly did my dining partners go through the whole dish that I forgot to give it the taste it deserved. By the time I realised, the plate was wiped clean. The Jewish-style chopped liver with gherkins (VND90,000) was equally sexy on the taste buds — slightly sweet, yet with that flavoursome richness typical of the original.
And then came the real surprise. My dining partners had wanted to try one of the more familiar dishes — the penne pasta with tomato and beef sauce (VND170,000). Essentially a Bolognese, it was peppery, tomatoey, garlicky, sweet and cheesy. In fact everything you’d expect of a good Bolognese. Even the al dente-cooked pasta went down well. Like everything else on the table, stomachs permitting we polished off as much of this dish as possible.
Make no mistake, Daluva is an excellent restaurant. And it’s not just its cuisine that you should go there for, but the creative cocktails, the Goldmalt craft beer on tap and unusual selection of spirits.
To avoid the place is to miss out on one of the best eateries in Tay Ho.
Daluva is at 33 To Ngoc Van, Tay Ho, Hanoi, or online at daluva.com
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
The Word reviews anonymously and pays for all meals