I was recommended to dine on the Riva floor but hadn’t booked. The inside dining area is fully occupied so I am shown to a table on the spacious balcony. It’s a gorgeous evening and I am more than happy to eschew the air conditioning for the slightly more casual feel of al fresco seating.
Unsurprisingly, the menu is heavily weighted towards creatures from the briny deep, although a few classic Vietnamese dishes featuring two and four-footed favourites are also available. Still, one does not come here to review the chicken or pork, so it is the seafood I stick to.
I am a sucker for soft-shell crab so these succulent crustaceans are an easy first choice. Ngoc Suong’s version comes coated in well-seasoned breadcrumbs, fried to golden crispness and, I think, slightly pressed. Either that or they have somehow sourced the most slender crabs I’ve yet to see. Crisp, salty and tasting sweetly of the sea, they are a great accompaniment to the fragrant pinot gris we have selected.
The skewers of fat prawns grilled with chilli and salt, which follow the crab, are a serviceable version of this dish but to my mind, a little over cooked. They are stuck to the skewer and lacking the juiciness that lifts a simple dish such as this from ho-hum to food of the gods.
The mixed sushi platter is, well, mixed. The trio of oysters are plump, fresh and delicious but the fish is a little watery and bland. Luckily, just when things are starting to look a little grim a giant platter of muc mot nang — squid dried in the sun for a single day, which is then grilled and served with a chilli dipping sauce — arrives. The squid is thick and tender with that wonderful chewiness that comes from its day in the sun. The charring accents the sweetness of the flesh while the chilli adds a little zing to the proceedings. Delicious.
Service is of the amicably bumbling variety. Certainly not polished, but our waitress is so nice that it’s hard to feel irritated even when she starts to clear wine glasses that are clearly still a third full. At least we catch her before she manages to discard it all. With the cheapest bottle on the list starting at nearly VND1 million, more frugal diners (myself included) may be slightly miffed to lose a quarter of their bottle.
We had a pleasant evening in comfortable surrounds and if we were just a little disappointed by a couple of our selections, looking at the tables around us, I would say that we were definitely in the minority.
Muc mot nang - VND169,000
Grilled prawns with chilli & salt - VND61,000/100g
Soft shell crab - VND280,000
Mixed sushi platter- VND375,000
Décor : 9.5
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