Plush and indulgent, Xu’s main currency is escapism. A long bar manned with more than capable mixologists downstairs is an instant draw. But we were here for the food, so we headed upstairs into the soft lighting and intimacy of the dining area. Boasting a well-conceived collaboration between Vietnamese cuisine and overseas cooking styles, and with the likes of Square One and Blanchy’s Tash just a stone’s throw away, our expectations were high.

 

The Manhattan I ordered was exactly how I like it — balanced, with just a slight sweetness from the vermouth and a healthy kick. Very pleased with my cocktail, our appetisers arrived; we had gone with the rib eye fresh spring rolls and the infamous mini burgers.

 

The fresh spring rolls were, well, fresh spring rolls, plus beef and your standard herbs, and unfortunately, not a lot of either. The accompanying hoisin sauce added an edge the dish needed, but after four very small rolls, we were left trying to remember the taste of the beef. The mini hamburgers, as always, were fantastic. No more comments needed here.

 

Our main dishes appeared and we couldn’t help but be impressed. The tamarind braised beef looked immaculate and if I had whipped out a ruler, the four nearly identical pieces of tender beef would have been exactly the same distance from one another.

 

I was looking forward to the tamarind biting me back, but it wasn’t so much a bite as a faint nibble. The beef itself was beautifully cooked, falling apart nicely. The pumpkin was smooth and sweet, stealing focus somewhat from the meat, but the blink and you miss it bok choy, although pretty, faded into the background. Definitely more punch needed.

 

The desserts at Xu are better described as ‘bites’. Admittedly on the cheaper side, they are the size of postage stamps. The taste of them was for the most part good, but the white chocolate custard was vague and the che troi nuoc was a carbon copy of what I have eaten on the street. The chocolate brownie and the kumquat truffle were brilliant, but for me needed to be a touch larger to form a proper bite.

 

Vietnamese cuisine, renowned for its taste, simple fresh ingredients and above all, accessibility, is always a tricky one to incorporate into a more sophisticated, top-end environment without people thinking ‘this costs VND5,000 outside’.

 

Xu is intimate, chic and the service is so good the waiting staff know what you want before you want it. Although the dishes were definitely pleasant and tasty, they lacked the oomph necessary to transform such familiar ingredients into something truly memorable.

 

The Prices

Manhattan: VND110,000

Mini Hamburhers: VND110,000

Rib Eye Fresh Spring Rolls: VND180,000

Tamarind Braised Beef: VND320,000

White Chocolate Custard: VND25,000

Che Troi Nuoc: VND25,000

Chocolate Kumquat Truffle: VND25,000

Chocolate Brownie: VND25,000

 

The Verdict

Food: 10

Service: 13

Décor: 12.5

 

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

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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