The French Colonial villas can make anything look elegant and luxurious. The white walls and blue windows of the villa stood out on the busy Hai Ba Trung road with the giant sign in mosaic style that spells Hanoi Ocean House. A spacious courtyard filled with greeneries and three huge tanks filled with lobsters, king crabs, and other big sea creatures is a sight to show off what the restaurant has to offer. Such possession of high end ingredient is one that any restaurant would envy. I was pleasantly surprised to find that my reserved table was placed in a private room although I had not made any special request. Turns out every single group of guests here are placed in these private rooms, how very French.
Although the restaurant was set in a French-like environment, the menu seems to be of a global fusion style. We were presented with a wide array of choices, ranging from local seafood and imported seafood. The main driving force here is high end offerings such as Canadian gooey duck, Australian abalone, king crab, and lobster. However, the draw back is that the cooking technique seems to repeat for every type of fish or seafood. A wine lover will enjoy the wine cellar of Hanoi Ocean House, with many choices including vintage Grand Crus.
The western dishes can be found mainly in the appetizer section. Sea bass tartare is an example. The pieces of sea bass were minced finely and mixed with tomato and onion. It seems that the fish was treated with good techniques to dispel the fishy odor. There’s also a good amount of freshness and coolness. However, the dish is one the sweet side, and the ratio of tomato and onion to fish is a bit high therefore overpowering the delicate flavor of the fish.
Asian dishes dominate the main menu. We tried two dishes: Spicy stir-fried mackerel with thai spices and turtle braised in lotus leaf and salt. The mackerel dish, unlike its description, it was deep fried instead of stir-fried, sweet and sour Thai sauce was pour on top along with dried shallots, lime, and chilli. Not a bad dish but nothing extraordinary. The turtle dish was done quite well. When they open the layer of foil, the scent of shitake mushroom and fried shallot escape, leaving me salivating. The tender and moist turtle meat kept its shape because it was wrapped up when grilled. One drawback was that since it’s not lotus season, the lotus leaf was substituted with foil so it looked quite industrial.
There were highlights during the meal. Thrice-dried squid is not a common dish but I truly enjoyed this. Intense umami, with a slightly chewier exterior texture than Once-dried squid, while still preserving the tenderness on the inside. The more you chew, the more umami you can taste. King prawn cooked in wine brings a sense of nostalgia because this dish was popular in the 90’s. The prawn has a natural sweetness, with firm texture and a slight white wine flavor, simple and delicate. However, the dipping sauce was not up to par. I would have been happier with Nha Trang green lime chilli sauce instead of mainstream hot sauce and salt pepper.
The star of the meal was Grilled blood cockles from O Loan Swamp. It would be very easy to dismiss this dish as there wasn’t much information on it on the menu. The O Loan cockles were fit for kings: huge in size, bright crimson in color, oozing rich juices, intense flavor with crunchy chewy texture, completely different from any shellfish I have tried before. The price is also more affordable than the dishes I found here.
The biggest issue with the food at Hanoi Ocean House is the lack of completion. First with the presentation, most of the dishes are presented in a simplistic manner with a few slices of cucumber, a tomato, and a few lettuce leaves. Other than that, there were many small mistakes here and there and it was hard to detect true excellence. There was good foundation, the staff was attentive – constantly offered to peel the shell of our clams or shrimp for us and gracious enough to bring our many inquiries to the chef. However, they lack professionalism and knowledge of the food they serve. The mannerism of the staff doesn’t match the level of luxury that the restaurant is trying to achieve. We also didn’t receive good recommendations from our waitress, who was pushing for dishes such as king crab and lobster. With a private room, our own waitress, and dishes made from premium ingredient, we expect a sizable bill. However, I would have been more pleased if the service and the menu of the restaurant had been more on par with the price.
Place: Hanoi Ocean House – 12 Hai Ba Trung str., Hanoi
Business hour: 9:00 – 23:00