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Address: 84 Pitt St, City
Phone: (09) 365 2768
After the excesses of the holiday season I've been on the hunt for fresh, snappy food and one cuisine that can be relied on to deliver in this department is Vietnamese. My usual hood for seeking this vibrant and flavourful food is Otahuhu but I'd clocked a relatively new Vietnamese eatery closer to home - Hanoi Village in Pitt St. Peering through the window, the rudimentary interior isn't a far cry from the drop-in centre it used to be, but the old upright wooden piano, fake greenery and selection of oriental ornaments looked vaguely charming and the display menu hit all the right buttons - rice paper rolls, pho, com (rice) dishes and more.
Once seated Hanoi Village became slightly less charming - X-Factor blared from the TV above the piano and table service was not supplied - but at the same time it was not dissimilar to many of the local eating houses you find in Hanoi so we were unperturbed and got stuck in to ordering ourselves a feast.
We started with some rice paper rolls. The fresh variety were marvellous with soft, pillow-like rice paper wrappers encasing fresh, crisp fillings of vegetables and prawn and pork.
The peanut soy dressing was delicious - sweet, salty and thick with crushed peanuts. The fried minced spring rolls were a true reminder of those you find in Vietnam - freshly-fried in woks set over gas burners, in markets and by the roadside, bubbling in hot oil until crispy and delicious. Rich with minced pork and wood-ear mushrooms, these ones arrived piping hot and served with a bowl of clear and well-balanced nuoc cham, the famous dipping sauce that epitomises the essential Vietnamese flavours - sweet, salty, sour and spicy.
With most of the main dishes priced between $10-$12, this place is very cheap but when the food began to arrive we could see why. Hanoi Village seems more geared towards being a lunchtime option with most dishes served in the same, small dessert bowls along with identical, and unremarkable, steamed carrots and florets of broccoli, the rice or vermicelli (depending on what you'd ordered) and then only a modest serving of the star ingredient, be it lemongrass chicken, grilled pork, chicken curry or caramelised pork. The presentation was uninspiring which was a real shame as it would be so easy to up the ante in this area; throw the caramelised pork in one of those darling little clay pots for example, or serve the rice on the side so the dishes don't all end up looking the same. Taste-wise, the flavours in each dish were adequate but they lacked magic and didn't punch and kick with any real highlights. We were hoping for a hit of fresh ginger, a dash of lime, a splash of fish sauce, anything to make our tastebuds tingle. Conspicuously missing were the usual complimentary accompaniments to any great Vietnamese meal - lettuce leaves, fresh herbs, extra chopped chilli. Fish and soy sauce were available on a side-table and a scant plate of herbs could be ordered, all for a surcharge. We resorted to doctoring the dishes with extra coriander, mint (ordinary, not Vietnamese) and chilli sauce.
There was one highlight - the beef pho. A steaming bowl of clear but tasty broth arrived, and I swear I could detect the authentic flavour of a beef bone in the stock. The layers of flavour crept up from this rice noodle soup and in the end, with mouth burning, I was able to let out a satisfied sigh - this was the lively cuisine I'd been craving.
If Hanoi Village is going to persist in extending its daytime hours to include dinner, and I hope they do, then it seems to me they need to include some of the niceties that go with dining out of an evening - table service for ordering, meals priced accordingly so that they can drop the surcharges for extras, serving dishes that compliment and differentiate the food and offering desserts throughout the week, not merely on weekends. But here's the thing - despite the shortcomings of this restaurant I have revisited twice of my own free will. You might wonder why, if my overall rating is anything to go by. Well, it's one of those places that once you know what to order (fresh spring rolls and pho) it's actually quite good. And besides, it's open seven days with a cheap light show on every night as the windows of the strip club across the road light up - yellow ... red ... blue ... purple, yellow ... red ... blue ... purple - a routine so boring and predictable that it's strangely mesmerising.
From the menu: Fresh rice paper rolls - vegetarian $9, prawn & pork $15.50; Minced pork fried spring rolls $9; Lemongrass chicken $11.50, Chicken curry $11.50; Caramelised pork and egg $11.50, Stir-fried tofu with veggies, Beef pho $10.50; Grilled pork & vermicelli $11.50
Drinks: Not licensed