Quan Do Vietnamese, Hamburg

I stumbled across this Vietnamese place, located just near the main Hamburg train station. I love pho, and after missing the best pho from Monsieur Vuong, thought I’d give this place a try. I went there on after work one evening, but the queuing made me feel like I would go pretty hungry.

Quan Do

I went at an off peak time, figuring I might get a table easier between lunch and dinner, with a late lunch at 3pm. I was seated immediately, but there was plenty of other people eating. Even half an hour later, there were no more tables, and I was even asked to share.

Quan Do

Fortunatly I see why this place is popular. The pho was pretty tasty. Not quite like Monsieur Vuong special, but definitely tasty. It’s a place I’ll definitely come back to at some point.

Quan Do

Name: Quan Do: Vietnamese Street Kitchen
Found at: Georgsplatz 16 (Corner of Rosenstraße 3), 20099 Hamburg
Website: http://www.quan-do.com/

Ana Mandara

We stumbled across Ana Mandara after being told about it on our Segway tour. Apparently owned by Don Johnson (and others), this restaurant offers modern vietnamese cuisine. The interior is amazing, opening up into an oriental oasis and a haven from the tourist-central Fisherman’s Wharf area it sits in.

I’ll warn you now. The restaurant isn’t cheap and although we had a look at the menu before sitting down, didn’t realise how much the entire meal would cost us in the end after ordering. Starters begin at USD10 ranging up to normal main meal prices at other places (USD20) whilst mains began at USD20 and went to USD30. The meals are aptly named like the Temple’s Delight involving a plethora of vegetables mixed together with a miso sauce or the Dreams of Sea and Fire, a crab soup with house made noodles.

We started with the Honourable Road or what other asian restaurants might simply label as the Mixed Appetisers. Perhaps much of the USD31 for the plate went into the naming. Fortunately most of the components of the dish were pretty good. The fresh summer rolls arrived with a huge prawn, the chicken satay nice and smoky and the tender grilled beef succulent and moist. The calamari was probably the only disappointment remaining rather soft and lifeless and not with the crispness, or spice I’d expect.

I really enjoyed the Pieces of Gold (USD24) or a spicy caramelised claypot fish that they scooped out of the claypot and served on the plate. I’d hoped for something sizzling but instead we had some generously sized chunks of fish covered in a nice sauce. Considering the spice levels typically found in a vietnamese place, they could have used much more chili and failed to live up to its spicy name. I asked for some extra chilli sauce on the side that made up for it. We got some noodles as the side and some eggplant vegetables as well.

My sister wanted to try the Memories of Nha Trang (USD36). I’m a bigger fan of crab than lobster. I think the fun of lobster is over far too quickly, with the meat often more tough and less flavourful than its shellfish brethren. In this case, the lobster was covered in a tomato based sauce. It had some flavour and their presentation made the task of picking out the lobster flesh even easier. As I predicted though, it was over a bit too soon although I thought the flavours should have been sharper in a dish like this.

Although a nice experience, I don’t think I would return to Ana Mandara. With so many other offerings in San Francisco, I don’t think it offered the grace and wonder the prices demonstrate. This place feels like one you would want to take a nice date. The upstairs area looked great for sitting around, indulging in some drinks and absorbing the nice restaurant feel. It didn’t really work for a dinner place for a couple of tourists looking for a great meal around the Fisherman’s Wharf area.

Name: Ana Mandara
Found at: 891 Beach Street San Francisco, CA 94109, United States
Website: http://www.anamandara.com/

Cafe VN

My sister was constantly talking about going to this vietnamese place called Cafe VN that wasn’t so far from me, so we decided to go for dinner one night. It’s a place that hadn’t really registered but thought we’d try to give it a go.

Bright green lighting draws diners in, like a moth to a flame.

We started with some spring rolls and then the chilli salt squid. I was a bit disappointed by the spring rolls. For a Chinese equivalent of a spring roll, it was pretty decent – large and filled with lots of real filling instead of simply just wrapper. Unfortunately I was looking forward to the great crispy skinned vietnamese spring rolls when they use rice paper wrapping instead.

The sqiud was actually pretty good and a huge serve as well. Pieces were soft and juicy though there could have been much more chilli around.

Being a huge pho fanatic, I ordered the house special that came with prawns and beef. The serving size was huge and, even I didn’t finish all everything the came. The prawns were huge and there was plenty of meat, the only thing of note was that they didn’t use very traditional pho rice noodles, instead flatter, thicker noodles I’d expect in a stir fry.

It looked the same when my sister ordered the pork bun (rice noodle) dish with the wrong noodles.

Service was great and friendly, mostly due to a warm Australian waitress helping us out. Food was okay, although not very authentic.

Name: Cafe VN
Found at: 144 Clerkenwell Road, London, EC1R 5DP
Website: http://www.cafevn.co.uk/

Dining at Dos Palillos

I’ve been fortunate enough to stay in Berlin’s Casa Camper for the last couple of weeks. It’s voted 7th traveller’s favourite hotel in Berlin on TripAdvisor and it’s definitely my favourite so far. Their restaurant, under renovation during my first week’s stay reopened last week and I asked reception about it as the chef’s jacket with El Bulli’s name caught my eye.

Apparently the head chef, Albert Rauric worked at El Bulli as their head chef, traveling back and forth between Spain and Berlin to attend to his restaurants. Inspired by Spanish tapas style, and enthused by Asian ingredients (perhaps via his Asian wife) each plate extremely well executed and well deserving of their Michelin Bib Gourmand award.

Above is a photo looking down the long bench where you face the chefs as they prepare your food in a wonderful open kitchen format. Everything is bright and glittering, a stark contrast to the dimly lit streets of Berlin and a warm welcome from the outside cold.

Three of us dined here and rather than sitting all directly in front, we took the corner of the bench enabling the perfect balance between intimate dinner conversations and opportunities to watch our delightful meal being prepared.

We started with a glass of German equivalent prosecco, although they also brought us a brightly coloured pink grapefruit aperitif. Slightly tart, and perfectly refreshing, the bubbles in this small shot glass helped prepare our palettes for the journey to come.

Above are some of the small sauces that would later be used to accompany the various dishes. But first, our first dish arrived, tsukemono or marinated radish, green apple and wasabi. I’m a big fan of radishes and expecting perfectly crunchy small bites, each of these had slightly softened from their dressing and at the same time retaining the perfect amount of bite. The apple adds a slightly tart dimension and the wasabi used to lift the dish just that little bit more. A starter that showed us what a journey we were in for.

Soon arriving was chicken skin, deep fried with curry and served with sweet sour sauce. It’s hard to argue for the flavours and crunch by any skin deep fried, yet these small bites weren’t in the least greasy to eat. Extremely moreish.

Next arrived Sunomono or Japanese style salad marinated with rice-vinegar vinaigrette and smoked mackerel. This was perhaps my least favourite dish because I’m not the biggest fan of seaweed however I still appreciated the complex flavours and differences provided by the complex textures and flavours from each seaweed variety.

We moved from Japan to Vietnam with these Vietnamese Summer Rolls – rice paper, omelette, chicken, basil and coriander with crushed peanuts and slices of chilli. I have to say these disappeared almost instantly. They were that good. I could have appreciated more heat, but I’m guessing a lot is adapted for local tastes which don’t include huge degrees of spice.

We moved onto the aemono or octopus cucumber salad. Toasted sesames added a rich nutty flavour to the dish, and each bite filled with umami provided by the miso paste in the dressing. The cucumbers brought freshness and the octopus so tender and soft each piece almost melting in the mouth. I particularly enjoyed picking up each piece of this dish, savouring every last element.

Just like at Noma many of the chefs deliver the food. In this case, a small tray topped with four small bowls and a tea pot. Three of the bowls filled with contents for a fresh soup, and the soup poured out in front of us. The last bowl, filled with coconut cream, our chef spooned on completing the thai soup (tom kha gai) with prawn tofu and fresh herbs. We oo-ed at the finishing touches at the table and the photo really doesn’t do it justice to the complex flavours that laid in the broth. Their interesting twist was to add small pieces of grapefruit.

Our tempura dish turned out to be filled with sardines that we dipped into a ginger soy sauce.

From where we sat, we could see the robata grill and on top, pieces of pork slowly roasting. We could see the smoke wafting to their ventilation fans and two of us (the ones who could eat pork) hoping with all of our might those pieces were destined for our plates and bellies.

But first arrived the prawn dumplings filled with prawn and pork belly. Expecting a stronger pork flavour, Sha Sha duly noted that it tasted much more like prawn, touched with a bit of pork fat instead of a stronger pork flavour than expected.

Stef, unable to eat the shellfish ended up with some nice vegetable dumplings.

More fun arrived with a version of te maki that we turned into a Do-It-Yourself sushi dish.

Here was the result of one of my attempts.

They even provided fresh wasabi, something I know particularly hard to come by and appreciated and savoured in each of our mouths.

Closest to us from the kitchen stood the wok station, and from here we could see one of the chefs prepare our next course.

Baby vegetable wok. We could tell it focused on root vegetables (perfectly in season) including carrots, parsnips, celery and what we think was chestnut and a gourd of some kind. Slightly smoky, just cooked yet crisp, this dish was perfect.

Another fish dish arrived in the form of char grilled mackerel with red onions and miso mayonnaise. Not much to say here other than noting how beautiful the presentation was and another perfectly executed dish.

Sha Sha doesn’t eat beef, so she received a chicken yakitori grilling over the same coal robata as the pork soon to arrive.

For the rest of us, we got a “japo burger” – homemade steamed bread, beef, ginger, cucumber and shiso. I loved this concept. Somehow they captured the lightness of bao-style bread, slightly toasted each side and the perfect bite-sized portion filled with juicy beef lightly seasoned with that ginger flavour. A whole plate of these near me would not have lasted five minutes. Fortunately we only had one after so much food.

Our final dish was hong shao rou or braised pork jaw, laquered cantonese style and finished on the charcoal grill. This was our dish! Sliced into delicately thin slices, each piece melting perfectly into the mouth and packed with flavour. Being our last dish I definitely took the time to draw out all the flavours in this one. Stef, the non-pork eater, got a “char xiu bao” made vegetarian style although Sha Sha and I seemed confused since “char xiu” means BBQ pork. He assured us their interpretation was not.

A long slew of dishes later, we arrived at dessert. Our first being a small mango flan. Made with coconut milk and mango essence, a surprise laid at the bottom of the bowl of slightly caramelised ginger pieces.

Finally wrapping up our meal, we finished with pandanus ice-cream, tangerine compote and “burnt” milk skin”. Not on the menu, they finished the dish off with crushed coffee beans, and what we confirmed with them later, crushed cardamom. The “burnt milk skin” tasted slightly malty and not burnt at all and I am always a huge fan of anything with pandan.

Looking back at what we had it was a bargain meal for their EUR60 price. They had many reasonably priced wines and sakes, and several interesting alternative aperitif (try their yuzu tonic if you’re into your bitter citrus fruits like I am). Service was extremely friendly, the atmosphere warmed by the open kitchen, the fact that chefs deliver the food they cook and the depth of flavours from every single dish.

I’m definitely going to try to return before I leave Berlin, knowing that you can also order a la carte tapas or full dish style.

Name: Dos Palillos
Found at: Casa Camper Hotel
Website: http://www.casacamper.com/berlin/dining/dospalillos-en.html

Vietnamese at Monsieur Vuong

I’d heard so much about this great Vietnamese place during the week from my work colleagues I decided to check it out for a late lunch after my run in Berlin’s Tiergarten. Hoping that the place would still be open when I left my hotel for this lunch at 2:30pm, I was completely surprised walking in and finding it ridiculously busy. Thankful for eating by myself, I was seated almost immediately with a number of other solo diners at the circular bar surrounding the kitchen area.

I thought it would have been awful waiting for a table for four or more. With a menu in German, I managed to work out most of the classic Vietnamese dishes, noting a few different variations. Everything was cheap here, though looking at the dishes coming out, amazing value (less than €10) for the modern variations that emerged.

Feeling a cold on its way, I opted for the health restoring, Pho, that soon arrived as a steaming broth with gently cooked pieces of juicy chicken, rice noodles and plenty of greens. I was quite proud to order it in the small enough to be non-existent German I’d been accumulating through the week.

With flavours and value like this, it’s no surprise that plenty of Berliners streamed through its doors, even by the time I’d left.

Name: Monsieur Vuong
Found at: Alte Schönhauser Str. 46, 10119 Berlin, Germany
Website: http://www.monsieurvuong.de/

Brunch at Lele Nha Hang

One thing I never realised about Copenhagen was its fascination for the weekend brunch. I think it’s something that London has drilled out of me where the city doesn’t really start to move until midday. Not great for morning people. Fortunately Copenhagen is a much less sleepy town, at least on a Sunday morning.

Reading about the Copenhagen brunch culture, I started to look around at a number of options and discovered LeLe Nha Hang did a very different brunch. I remember eating here last year, extremely impressed by the combination between classic Vietnamese with some modern techniques and Danish ingredients. What a strange combination a brunch might make when these two worlds collide. We had to go here.

I’m really glad that we did as well. Considering the wide selection and the buffet style, it really is great value at DKK155 (£18) even if you have pay a bit extra for drinks.

To start off the brunch, I needed my daily caffeine fix so the Vietnamese style coffee was definitely in order. Strong and without being too sickly sweet, this was a great start to the day. Of course they offer many other classic brunchtime drinks including all of their intriguingly unusual drinks all very well named. Care for an “Apocalypse Now” (Johnnie Walker Black Label, Cherry Heering, Chambord & Bitters)? What about a “Red Dragon” (Absolut vodka, dragonfruit, strawberry & hot stuff)?

Their asian influenced brunch roughly splits into a small number of tables. There’s the cold cut table where they stock the salads, cold seafood including this perfectly rolled smoked salmon pieces pictures above and the tiny sushi rolls pictured below. Another table stores the hot stuff (split into the western and asian section), a breads and pastry table and then a very large desserts table.

Of the hot stuff, you get everything from the steamed dumplings influenced with vietnamese spices, fried spring rolls, noodles and fried rice all the way to the western waffles, a variety of sausages, hashed potatoes, pancakes and, what would brunch be without eggs and bacon?

I pretty much stopped at most of the mail meal. Despite the wide girth of the desserts table, my widening girth from the other meals made me stop to really think about what I really wanted off the table.

I’m not a big fan of chocolate fondue and although they cakes all looked really appealing, none of them really stood out as being extremely different or out of the ordinary.

I satisfied myself with having a number of sticks skewered with fruit and a few dragonfruit and kiki fruit slices available in the large bowls.

It’s worth getting here early (or at least booking ahead) since the whole restaurant filled up with people and the you-know-its-good queues of locals forming outside in the cold. It’s great value, excellent quality and definitely worth giving it a go.

Name: Lele Nha Hang
Found at: Vesterbrogade 40, 1620 København, Denmark
Website: http://lele-nhahang.com/

Bahn Mi in Paris

One of my favourite lunch time dishes in Calgary was going to the nearest Vietnamese place that did a wonderful Bahn Mi. Talking to my friend, Gerrod who lived in New York for sometime, apparently the Bahn Mi is taking the city by storm and I’m glad it’s about time that it did. When I went to Paris a couple of weeks ago, I made sure to track down a Bahn Mi place (that must be accompanied by a pearl tea!)

The Bahn Mi store that I found on the Internet is closest to the Arts et Métiers metro stop, literally only a block away. The store isn’t very well signed and I walked up and down until I saw that the name of the store wasn’t on the building itself, but a tiny non-descript sign hanging off the door. Fortunately they were still open when I went early afternoon, hoping to have to grab one for dinner.

The lady who runs this place is actually a Chinese lady who lived in Vietnam for sometime, and then moved to Paris. I’m amazed because she effectively spoke four languages (I had an easier time communicating with her in English than many other people that weekend) and so we got chatting as she put together my Bahn mi. I guess it’s probably about time to describe what this dish is. My memories of the Calgarian adaptation of the Bahn Mi is a toasted baguette (think Quiznos but better) filled with the classic Vietnamese marinated meat (or tofu) accompanied by fresh or pickled cucumbers and carrots, spicy coriander (cilantro for those americans), and tiny chopped chillis to give it that bite.

Here, the baguette is fresh and unlikely another one I had in little Vietnamese town, came toasted and freshly cooked. I had the beef particularly spicy, with a homemade deep and flavourful sauce that it really did remind me of the good times in Calgary. Given that the baguette was almost a foot long, this was one of the best value meals I had in Paris. I also made sure I had the sesame pearl tea that was made just as freshly. Yummo.

Name: Bahn Mi
Found at: 7 Rue Volta, 75003 Paris, France (look out for the dark black paint)
Website: None found though here’s a couple of links to some reviews