Chunky wooden tables are squeezed into a cosy nook, with a few scattered on the extra wide pavement for those who like to see and be seen. An eclectic collection of images and objet d'art line the walls and the overall atmosphere has a bistro feel with a whimsical twist.
I must admit that my first feelings were trepidation with a hint of resignation when I was assigned this restaurant to review, but the blackboards offering daily specials such as gnocchi with spinach and cream sauce, magret duck, and chicken liver salad replace my trepidation with cautious anticipation, while banishing the resignation completely.
As the only lunch guest, my presence seems to confuse the waitress somewhat, but she recovers sufficiently to bring a menu listing a large range of French dishes and a smattering of those more Italian inspired, nearly all of which sound tempting. After much deliberation I settle on the chicken liver salad and beef carpaccio, both from the specials board.
The salad arrives first: an avalanche of piping hot, beautifully sautéed livers bathed in a light creamy sauce redolent with brandy and thyme cascades down a mountain of crisp, fresh lettuce. Yum. Moments later my second dish arrives, which is somewhat surprising since it is fairly clear that I am eating alone. Never mind, there is only the waitress and one other staff member to witness my gluttony and I will not easily be distracted from the livers.
Perhaps it's the unexpectedness of finding such a well executed dish in Pham Ngu Lao, let alone here, that makes it taste so darn good. Or maybe it is the lightness of the sauce, the deft touch with the seasonings, the juxtaposition between the hot creamy livers and the cool, crunchy lettuce. Whatever, it is a winner.
The portion size is very generous, especially given the remarkably reasonable price of VND75,000 and I would be content to stop there. The carpaccio, however, has been staring at me reproachfully as I have devoured the chicken livers with gusto and I feel it is only right to at least try to give the second dish the same attention.
This is a carnivore's delight. Thick slices of crimson beef look like they have been wrenched from a beast still kicking before being bathed in a piquant vinaigrette that somehow manages to enhance the rawness both in look and flavour. The same lettuce that came with the earlier salad looks completely defeated in the face of this bovine onslaught. It is a brutal, robust dish; not for the faint-hearted but rewarding those who dare. I have already gorged myself on one richly satisfying dish so I admit defeat about half way through. Even if I hadn't already eaten (almost) my fill, I think I would still prefer to share this dish. It is delicious but a little overwhelming.
From the dishes I tried, Long Phi produces good, honest, rustic food. The only disappointment is the bread — an ancient banh mi that was tough, dry and distinctly unpalatable. I'm more than willing to eat here again, although for atmosphere's sake I think I shall return after the sun goes down. Come for dinner. Stay for the dancing.
Chicken liver salad VND75,000
Beef Carpaccio VND75,000
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