The UK based Restaurant, Hotel and Wine Review


INDOCHINE 1929
the Vietnamese Restaurant in Hong Kong

Michael Pelham knows how to take on the Colonial Scene!

French Indo-China, situated as it were in the heart of Somerset Maugham country, must have been a fascinating place in which to live in the late 20s and 30s - judging at least by the fine array of sepia prints in the hall of this excellent restaurant celebrating La Cuisine Vietnamienne. There are the be-whiskered gentlemen enjoying their drinks on elegant verandahs, waited on by many finely robed servants; here are the ladies, vastly over-dressed, playing tennis and badminton; here are pictures of favourite and faithful amahs and house boys; solar topees, horses, polo - all abound. Work does not feature largely in the photographs, nor the discomfort and danger that must have been so often present before air-conditioning, refrigeration, and antidotes to malaria and other tropical diseases were invented.

At Indochine, however, all is refrigerated and air-conditioned and it is a treat to find such outstanding exponents of another very particular Asian cuisine. The restaurant is on the second floor of what looks like an office block in Lan Kwai Fong in Central - a typical venue for a Hong Kong restaurant. Passing by the sepia prints as one comes out of the lift, one goes into a pleasant, unassuming, simply decorated room with tables attractively laid. The main evidence of Indochina is from the elegant Vietnamese long slit dresses worn by the ladies who are serving.

That is until the food starts to arrive.

First, with a cooling drink, perhaps a fresh lime soda, came crackers with a Vietnamese spiced vinegar dip. Then crispy fried spring rolls with pork, crab and mushrooms. With them was a bowl of cos lettuce with mint and other herbs. What you do is to place a lettuce leaf on the plate, with a leaf or two of mint, lemon balm and other fresh herbs, then dip a piece of the roll in the spiced vinegar before rolling it up in the lettuce. The spring rolls are rather firmer and more substantial than usual because of the meat rather than vegetable content and the pork and crab have been pounded, as in the preparation of quenelles.

Next we had a most unusual taste: grilled, minced shrimp on sugar cane. The shrimp had been pounded, wrapped round little sticks of sugar cane then grilled. The meat parcels were cut away from the cane before eating, again wrapped them in cos lettuce and rice paper and with the same dip, which had perhaps become a little too prevalent

More and different dishes were to come, however. Fried fish, Hanoi style, with dill, turmeric and rice vermicelli was served in a little stew pot with a burner under it, so was piping hot - and delicious in its clear brown sauce. On the side were grounded peanuts with a separate sauce, into which you dip the pieces of firm white fish.

Salt and pepper soft shell crabs are another feature of Indochine. They are fried until crisp and everything is eaten.

Our final main course (although dishes came more or less together) was beef tenderloin with tomatoes - little pieces of outstandingly tender beef in a beef jus, with nothing to spoil the flavour of the perfect meat.

And that was it - no room for dessert - or so we thought. Without asking, along came the most delicious banana fritters, slices of custard apple, egg fruit, papaya, melon and pineapple. Which we ate, of course.

We could have substituted or added as first courses other dishes, which included steamed pork and mushroom ravioli, with salad and bean sprouts; fried shrimps with emince of sweet potato; pan fried fish cakes with dried shrimps and herbs; asparagus and crab meat soup; hot and sour fish soup. Other main courses available were pork chop with lemon grass; various duck and chicken dishes; Hanoi beef hot pot and rice vermicelli; stir fried fillet of lamb with chili and onions.

There is quite a varied wine list but soft drinks or beer seem to go best with this full flavoured and spicy food. San Miguel beer brewed in the Philippines is a favourite.

Lunching or dining at Indochine is a fine experience. No one should miss the opportunity of enjoying unusual Vietnamese cooking at its best.

First courses HK$ 46/70; main courses 140/180. 12.5 HK$ = 1 GBP.

IndoChine, 2/F, California Tower, Lan Kwai Fong, Central, Hong Kong.
Tel: 2869 7399 Fax: 2840 1234

Michael Pelham is proprietor of Pelham tours, specialising in gastronomic and other tours in the UK and Europe.

Pelham Tours, Old Way House, Beaulieu, Hampshire SO42 7YL, England
Tel: 01590 612264 Fax: 01590 612747
e-mail: peltours@interalpha.co.uk


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