5 7
S I M P LY A B U DH A B I
A
fter our meal at Pearls and Caviar on our first night at the Shangri-La (see
page 20), we were agreed that the experience would be difficult to top. Our
venue for dinner the next evening was at the Vietnamese restaurant, Hoi
An. And after we had dined there, we really couldn’t decide which one was the better!
Hoi An specialises in delicious Vietnamese food. As soon as you step inside the
restaurant, it’s like travelling back in time. The classy and sophisticated décor is
intended to recall the colonial era of Vietnam’s past. So you’ll see sumptuous marbled
floors, beautiful plants in pots, and impressive large fans rotating on the ceiling. I love
it when a restaurant shows this kind of imagination in its design. It’s a sign that the
people behind it take care over every little detail – and that they love to have fun.
Seeing the playful sophistication of the restaurant’s décor had really put us in the
mood to expect some exquisite cuisine. We decided that we really wanted to sample
as much as we could of this restaurant’s superb offer. We shared starters of lemongrass
fish cakes and grilled tiger prawns on a skewer. Both were utterly fantastic. The fish
cakes were accompanied by a wonderfully crunchy selection of vegetables including
carrots and cucumbers. Delicious rice noodles, sweet shallots, rich peanuts and a
superbly tart fish vinaigrette sauce completed this commanding creation.
This dish was truly a riot for the tastebuds – a revelation that comprised a mixture of
vibrant, fresh and subtle flavours. Each of the ingredients would have been fabulous
on its own – but the thing about this dish was that these phenomenally gorgeous
elements, clearly sourced with immense skill and panache, added up to something
greater than the sum of their parts. A great achievement!
The fishcakes were a hard act to accompany – but unbelievably, the tiger prawns were
their equal. In fact, if anything they actually surpassed them. The prawns were huge,
but they were also amazingly tender and fresh – I really can’t remember the last time
I had seafood this good.
Chatting to the waiting staff, we found out that the prawns are flown in from
Vietnam’s Mekong River. Now that’s the kind of dedication to sourcing authentic,
quality ingredients that we like to see. The chefs here were clearly determined to find
the finest prawns they could, and would go to any lengths to get them. Well, all I can
say is that they did get the best! The prawns were delicious, and they were served
with crunchy salad, samba and chilli sauce. Again, this simple mixture took the dish
already sublime – up to a whole new level.
For the main course, I ordered a crispy wok-fried whole fish, which came
accompanied with green mango salad, basil, chilli soy sauce and crispy shallots. I’m
pleased to say that it lived up to the phenomenally high standards that we had by now
come to expect. The green mango salad was for me the star of the dish. It was so
exotic and tasty that I managed to finish it way ahead of the other components!
This time it was Jordana’s turn to order sea bass, which she chose to have steamed in
a banana leaf. I tried some, and was left in no doubt that this was a stunningly delicious
way to serve it. Yet again, the fish was cooked perfectly. To maintain these kinds of
standards day in, day out, requires a really deep and ingrained ability, honed over
many years. We were mightily impressed. The fish was accompanied by some
wonderfully juicy Shiitake mushrooms, lemongrass, lime leaves, white miso and
spicy soy sauce. What a mouthwatering array of flavours! Once again, they had hit
on a winning combination. While the dining experience here is, as you might expect,
utterly refined, I must admit that this particular dish was polished off with almost
indecent haste...