"Irasshaimase!” Boom! The shouted traditional welcome yanked us out of Vietnam and into Japan, or at least, a small slice of it in the form of Tamago, a pretty little place nestled in the leafy otherworld suburb of District 2.

 

As well as the bellowed greeting, we were met by twinkling fairy lights, a curved wall painted in a deep bamboo-blue-green and the image of Mount Fuji daubed just outside the entrance. The bamboo that has been manipulated to partially obscure the Perspex upper wall that keeps the exhaust fumes out also manages to create an intimate yet spacious outside dining area that this ‘burb is known for.
Admittedly a haul from the epicenter of Japanese dining on Le Thanh Ton, like many other establishments in the area Tamago aims to be family friendly, hence the fairytale play house and toys piled in the corner. The canopy above is also handy should the weather do what it does best at this time of year.

 

Off the Menu

 

A really affordable draught beer in hand, we took a look at the menu which does resemble that of most other Japanese restaurants in the city, but sensing our indecision the helpful waitress/sister of the owner advised us to go with one of her own creations, the off menu tuna dish which appeared to be called maguro sarada as well as our additional choice of shrimp ebi gyoza. Our starters didn’t disappoint.

 

The tuna salad was a brilliant mix of sashimi chunks mixed with tiny fish eggs and spicy soy sauce. Mixed together and served with green caviar that pops in your mouth, it won us over with its silky smoothness and a taste that thankfully didn’t cancel out that of the fresh fish. The ebi gyoza were not quite as impressive and although the shrimp held its own, the additional ingredients proved to be a bit dry and slightly bitter. Despite this, a great little dipping sauce helped, full of toasted sesame seeds, as did the crispy outer shells of the dumplings themselves.

 

With so much to choose from, yet again our waitress came to the rescue, suggesting dishes here and there, as well as telling us which fresh fish or shellfish they had that day, saving us the disappointment of having to reorder later. We opted for the red clam nagiri Hokigai sushi, largely due to its candy like appearance, tempura tonkatsu, deep fried pork cutlet, and a mixed kushi yaki of beef, pork and chicken skewers.

 

A Touch of Sauce

 

You’d have to be a magician to make deep fried pork cutlet anything other than it is, but where Tamago won through was, as with all of the dishes we ate that night, the sauces. The accompanying sauce has more ingredients than I or the waitress can describe, but it’s excellent and worth dipping your face in should you run out of pork. Unctuous but light, the sauce can and should be used for everything, its tangy kick simultaneously sucker punching right through the heady spice of its underbelly.

 

The BBQ skewers had mixed reviews. On the one hand they satisfy that char-grilled need for blackened meat, but on the other the meat itself wasn’t the best in terms of texture and more fat was present than we would have liked. The beef was tender and tasted like the fire only a BBQ can summon. The sauce, a different one this time, a standard tare, was a nice way to tie all the different meats together, and what the dish may have lacked in meat, it more than made up for in flavour.

 

Tamago may not be able to beat its District 1 counterparts on price, but the ambience, space and friendly personal service do, in my mind, outstrip many of them. Although they offer a takeaway service, which for non An Phu denizens comes with a minimum order value of VND500,000, It’s very much a place to make a night of it with your family, whether that means just you and the kids, or you and 10 of your closest friends. After all, the beer is cheap which will certainly help. The only thing standing in your way is mobilising the troops and getting them over the river, but then again you’d be surprised how many hungry people you can fit in a taxi when the need arises. Itadakimas!

 

The Prices

Ebi gyouza VND89,000

Magura Sarada VND119,000

Mixed Kushi Yaki VND129,000

Hokigai Sushi VND89,000

Tonkatsu VND109,000

Draught beer VND39,000


The Verdict

Food: 12

Service: 15

Décor: 13

 

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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