By Thúy Hằng

Located in a cul-de-sac next to bustling Nguyễn Thái Học Street, the cosy restaurant is a perfect replica of an old house on the Red River Delta.

From the wooden entrance to its tile roof, the two stone dog statues sitting outside, or the rough wall reminiscent of mud houses – every single detail create a nostalgic feeling for guests.

Stepping through the entrance, guests are ushered into the brown “living room” with a set of long wooden tables and two couches, together with a pair of lacquer panels. Some Vietnamese traditional treats like chè lam, mứt sen (sweetened lotus seed), and kẹo dồi are displayed on the table for anyone who wants to try. For me, those small treats add to the warm welcome.

Along a small staircase, we ascend to the second floor, which bears a very slight resemblance to the colonial style of décor with electric brass fans and glass ceiling lamps, yet retains the typical Vietnamese features. From small ceramic murals to the vase of white lilies in a corner, from the warm white light to the subtle French music – I was impressed by all these small, yet refined, details.      

While looking at the menu, I asked the waitress about the meaning of its name.

Actually, I was quite confident with my own “interpretation” of its name. I thought it would literally mean ‘searching for flavours’. But I was wrong.

According to the waitress, the restaurant’s name was simply created from the name of its owner, Tầm, and the word ‘Vị’ which means ‘flavour’.

The menu, which is not very large, features most of the dishes that you can have at home.

On our first visit, we selected ‘Rau bò khai xào trứng’ (Stir-fried Vietnamese forest vegetables with eggs, VNĐ74,000), ‘Dưa xào bò’ (Stir-fried vegetable pickles with beef, VNĐ96,000), ‘Canh hến’ (Vietnamese clam sweet and sour soup, VNĐ65,000), ‘Cà pháo muối’ (Salted tiny eggplant, VNĐ15,000), and ‘Cơm gạo lứt’ (Steamed brown rice with black beans, VNĐ45,000).

TRADITIONAL SELECTION: Stir-fried Vietnamese forest vegetables with eggs, steamed brown rice with black beans, and salted tiny eggplant.

While waiting for our food, looking around the venue, my gaze settled on a plate of fresh rolls on a nearby table. Longing to sample that dish, we also ordered a portion of ‘Cuốn tôm thịt’ (Fresh rolls with shrimp and pork belly, VNĐ110,000).

TASTE OF SUMMER: Cuốn tôm thịt (Fresh rolls with shrimp and pork belly). VNS Photos Thúy Hằng

I was not disappointed with our last-minute decision. The rolls were very fresh. All the ingredients – lettuce, coriander, pork, egg, prawn – are properly portioned, so the rolls are easy to eat.

All other dishes are similar to those whipped up by my ‘masterchef’ mum. However, the ‘Stir-fried vegetable pickles with beef’ failed to conquer my taste buds as it was quite sweet. At home, I also use sugar for this dish to balance the sourness of the pickle. Maybe the chef didn’t notice how sour the pickle was and gave the dish an excessive amount of sugar.

Anyway, the only poor dish didn’t affect our overall impression of the restaurant. We were happy with our dinner, the attentive service, and the atmosphere.  

That’s why, two weeks later, we had our second visit. We didn’t want to miss the very first cool autumn breeze by selecting a table on the charming terrace, surrounded by a large Bougainvillea.

PEACEFUL: The charming terrace is surrounded by a large Bougainvillea. Photo courtesy of Tầm Vị 

As the ‘Cuốn tôm thịt’ was my favourite on the first visit, I wanted to enjoy it again.

We also had ‘Nộm rau muống chẻ’ (Morning glory salad, VNĐ65,000), ‘Đậu phụ nhồi nấm và thịt’ (Stuffed tofu with pork and mushroom, VNĐ80,000), ‘Canh bí’ (Squash soup with dried prawns, VNĐ72,000), and salted eggplant.

CRUNCHY: Nộm rau muống chẻ (Morning glory salad). VNS Photo Thúy Hằng

The taste of the rolls was exactly how I remembered them. Someone said that summer is the season for all kinds of salads as all the ingredients are very fresh. I like the idea that I’m treating my taste buds with all the flavours of summer.  

The simple yet delicious morning glory salad is another great summer treat. I like the crunchy texture of the morning glory that was carefully hand-spliced into thin threads. The harmony of sweet and sour is definitely the soul of any Vietnamese salad, including this one.

The ‘Stuffed tofu with pork and mushroom’ is also very nice as the tofu is soft and smooth. The minced pork and mushroom add more flavour to this home-style dish.  

Alongside a menu featuring rustic dishes, Tầm Vị also offers several of Hà Nội’s traditional dessert such as ‘chè sen long nhãn nước dừa’ (lotus seeds and longan in coconut milk, VNĐ35,000), ‘chè đỗ xanh/ đỗ đen’ (black/ green bean sweet soup, VNĐ32,000), ‘tào phớ’ (beancurd and jasmine, VNĐ25,000), and ‘thạch sen’ (lotus seeds and coconut milk with grass jelly, VNĐ35,000).   

On its Facebook page, Tầm Vị suggests any guest visiting the restaurant should try their set menus featuring most of the basic dishes before trying other seasonal a-la-carte dishes. 

I’m sure I will visit the restaurant again, not only to satisfy my taste but also offer me the feeling of travelling back to the glorious time of an old Hà Nội. VNS

Tầm Vị Restaurant

Address: 4 Yên Thế Street, Đống Đa District, Hà Nội

Tel: 096 632 31 31

Opening hours: 10am – 10pm

Comment: Simple yet delicious and fresh food, traditional yet delicate décor and architectural style. Perfect place to explore Hà Nội’s culture through home-cooked dishes.  

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