[Pictures: Todd Eyre]
It used to be that if you wanted really, really good Vietnamese, you had to go to Mekong Vietnamese at the Ponsonby International Food Hall and sit with the teeming hordes and the fluorescent lighting. Or you could drive somewhere way down south of Auckland and feel all smug. No longer: now, you can go to Cafe Hanoi, which opened last month in a restored building in the Britomart precinct.
The fitout is brilliant – an industrial, raw sort of space with bright red chairs and big round rice paper shades – and the service is accomplished. The wine list is nicely suited to the salty-sweet-spicy nature of Vietnamese food. But the litmus test for places like this is the food – so often, there’s too much sugar, too much chicken and too much glug. Not here. Flavours are fresh and authentic; there are plenty of herbs. Presentation is masterful.
There were quibbles, of course. Fresh summer rolls needed more mint; a papaya, carrot and chicken salad was a little bland on its own, but the condiments – nuoc cham, chilli, lime – pepped it up. Wokked gurnard with turmeric, galangal and ginger was a standout: sticky and salty and strong. Best of all, though, was Hanoi-style grilled pork with herbs and nuoc cham soup – it comes with lettuce leaves for you to make porky, crunchy bundles, with a smoky flavour from the grilled pork. We’ll be back to try the “shaking” beef. SFG
HOURS Open 12pm until late Monday to Friday; 5pm until late Saturday.
ADDRESS Cnr Galway & Commerce Streets, Britomart, ph 302-3478. www.cafehanoi.co.nz
IMPORTANT DETAILS No dinner bookings (although you can book for lunch) but you can drink next door at 1885 Britomart while you wait. If there’s two of you, try for a seat at the bar, with a view of the kitchen.