Nam Thu and his wife Linh Vu have such a pedigree. Nam was in the top 11 of the third season, but was forced to withdraw because of illness, and Nam’s mother-in-law, Minh Thuy, was also a contestant in the same season, making it to the top seven. Since MasterChef, Nam and Linh have opened seven restaurants in Hanoi — Gia Dinh BB is the sixth and has been open for just over a year.
Located in Hai Ba Trung, Gia Dinh BB occupies a renovated villa over three floors. Nam and Linh’s background in textiles is obvious; wood, glass blocks and mirrors let in ambient light and give the restaurant a bright, spacious feel. And it was bustling; even at 2pm, diners were still dipping into their hotpots, the smell of dill permeating the air.
Cha Ca: Spot the Difference
Gia Dinh is described as an Asian fusion restaurant with a focus on seafood, and I was here for the cha ca (VND130,000). The dish is legendary in Hanoi, but I had only ever tried it in Saigon, and I was keen to play spot the difference. I also ordered the muc la lang hap can tay chanh vang (squid hotpot with celery and lemon — VND250,000) and the chao ca lang hanh gung (bagridae porridge with ginger and onion — VND85,000). Tra hat sen la nep (lotus tea — VND45,000) was my drink choice and I finished off with a dessert of xoi sau rieng (durian sticky rice — VND45,000).
What set this cha ca apart from the Saigon version was the fish served three ways. Simmering on a bed of dill were grilled chunks of fish, yellow from their turmeric marinade; minced fish wrapped in la lot (betel) leaf and stuffed with herbs; and fish wrapped in pork fat. The cha ca was accompanied by more dill, coriander, vermicelli, raw onion, fried shallots, peanuts and my favourite of all Vietnamese condiments; mam tom (fermented shrimp dipping sauce). The grilled fish was tender yet meaty, with a tangy, savoury flavour. The la lot wrapped fish was also tasty, although small fish bones hampered the experience somewhat. Being vegetarianish, I declined the fish wrapped in pork fat.
Squid, Glorious Squid
I refreshed my palate with the lotus tea — refreshing and not too sweet — before moving onto the squid hotpot. It was a generous serve — and delicious. The tender squid swam in a fragrant, laksa-inspired broth, all coconut milk, lemongrass and dill, with a slight kick of chilli. Even those who shy away from chilli would find this dish a delight. Next, I chowed down on the porridge and was pleasantly surprised by how light it was. It satisfied my umami taste receptors, with the fried shallots adding crunch and a touch of sweetness.
Never having eaten durian — the smell puts me off — I was hesitant to try the durian dessert, but was persuaded to give it a go. Coloured bright green with pandan leaf and garnished with cream, sliced almonds and fried, shredded coconut, it was a pretty dish. I could smell the durian, but found the flavour not unpleasant.
Customers are attracted to the restaurant because of the family’s MasterChef involvement, keen to see what all the fuss is about. With more than five years having passed since the show, the quality of the food and service as well as the reasonable prices keep diners coming back.
You can find Gia Dinh BB at 114 Bui Thi Xuan, Hai Ba Trung, Hanoi. They are open from 10am to 2.30pm and 5pm to 9.30pm daily
PHOTOS BY JULIE VOLA