Nestled in the heart of the old quarter, a quick stroll from the northern tip of Hoan Kiem lake, you’ll find Green Tangerine – a restaurant renowned in Vietnam and across the world for its innovative, even experimental, take on French and international fusion cuisine.
Stephane Yvin’s labour of love has to be the most gorgeous restaurant I’ve ever seen; an original 1928 French villa with an air of timeless elegance. Rachael and I stopped by here for dinner earlier this week and were so enchanted by the array of adventurous flavours that we promised each other we’d return someday. We were back for lunch within 48 hours. Prepare to have your food-mind blown.
The first steps on our adventure began somewhere vaguely familiar with this Vietnamese-inspired appetiser of finely ground meat gently caressed with subtle herbs in a delicate tofu hug. Think: if Marie Antoinette invented the spring roll. It was a charming introduction to the flavours that would soon follow.
The next appetiser consisted of bacon and mushroom flowers in a garden of sweet and sour tropical fruits with julienne carrot and chive. When it arrived at our table the two sweet old ladies next to us had to lean over with an, “Oh my gosh, that’s so neat…what is it?”
The best we could offer in response was a defeated shrug. It’s that sort of first taste that makes you stop chewing and look around the room in a sort of bemused state, trapped in some sort of delicious limbo where the flavours are achingly familiar yet you still can’t quite place what they are. Bacon, balsamic, mango, coriander – they’re all there swimming through your palate with the delicate earthiness of the mushroom.
Whisked from the kitchen to be placed before our amorous eyes was the caramelised pork with stewed apples, a lotus-seed mille feuille with a taro and herb mash. Succulent meat that falls apart as it gently surrenders to the slightest touch, complimented perfectly by the crispness of the lotus-seed cake and the richness of the sauce. Direct quote: “Orgasmic.”
Next in line to be devoured was the duck breast, cooked to elegant perfection with a cep and tamarind sauce and paired with a shameless tart of cherry tomatoes and some kind of anise-flavoured cream, corralled with spears of crisp asparagus and a deep mushroom sauce. You know you’re in for a treat when you’re asked how you would like your duck cooked – the beautiful medium rare meat achieved a perfect balance between char on the outside and the juicy render of fat in the middle that fills each mouthful with an amazing roundness of flavour.
With decadence in mind, we opted to share a dessert: a lemongrass cake with yoghurt ice cream and a caramel peppered with both white and black sesame seeds. Admittedly, this was a little bland in comparison to the flavour explosions we were still reeling from but I wouldn’t kick it out of bed on a cold morning.
For our second seduction, the first entree consisted of finely sliced and tender beef smothered in adventurous capsicum and curry pineapple chutney with a housemade linguine. It’s hard to find a good pasta in most parts of Asia and this dish was a triumph of colour and texture.
I decided to step hesitantly out of my comfort zone with our second entree for lunch and try out the Provencal style mackerel pie with white wine and mustard. I’ve heard chefs, television talking heads and foodies alike extol the virtues and the versatility of the fish pie for years now but the idea has simply never sat right with me. In what is starting to become a familiar pattern, I’m once again always right and this dish really stuck out as average when compared to the other delights that Green Tangerine offers.
The first main of the day consisted of sliced duck filet with an eggplant puree and white wine with forest mushrooms. It’s a solid dish, removed from the fanciful flavours of other menu items to really let the natural qualities of the duck shine through.
The final dish on our wonderful adventure was Green Tangerine’s re-imagined take on a Hanoi staple: cha ca. A light and crispy white fish in a saffron massage rolled with bacon, betel leaf and complex aromatic herbs served on a bed of dry rice noodles. In itself, the dish was delicious as it was but the sense of wonder and amazement came from the jewels of flavour dotted around the plate. I’ve simply never tasted a better olive oil and each one was injected with pure sensory delight – one was pesto, another was raspberry coulis, another was rich tomato essence.
I truly find it difficult to find the place to begin to describe the depth and complexity of the flavours we experienced, let alone where to end. There’s something to be said about a dish that makes me put down my fork and shake my head at the sheer cleverness of a pairing of ingredients. There are some clever bastards out there. Green Tangerine, I take my imaginary hat off to you. See you next time.