Initial impressions weren’t that exciting — the interior had the air of a tired conferencing or banqueting suite that had been turned over to a permanent Chinese venue, a point only evidenced by some lacklustre lanterns (electrically lit of course) and some sketchy koi carp paintings. These are the only nods towards a theme as you’d be more inclined to think you’d stumbled over a Johnnie Walker showroom as Asia’s favourite tipple occupied a display cabinet and enough advertising real estate to almost cover an entire wall. A strict Confucian greeting at least added some authenticity to proceedings as the floor manager bemoaned in Vietnamese to the waitress that showed me to my table, ‘Why’d you let him in? It’s almost 2pm and we close in 45 minutes!’
With such anodyne surroundings, the staff became one of the main attractions of the lunch service, with huddles at the service counter managing to drown out both the whispering sibilance of two middle-aged Chinese women at a nearby table gossiping and a teething baby. I also counted two occasions when waitresses managed to almost flatten each other as they attempted to use the same swing doors to the kitchen. Another interesting feature was the bizarre use of western first names on the nametags — Jacqueline from Hanoi was apparently serving me.
I’d heard an apocryphal tale related to the art of eating dim sum, and it came to mind as I began tackling the random smorgasbord of dishes I’d plumped for. There is apparently a dim sum test sometimes adopted by highflying Chinese business people, where they’d deliberately chose a dim sum meal to exalt in their dexterity with the chopsticks to the detriment of their business rival’s character — a far more subtle form of belittlement than the obvious device of giving your opponent the lower chair in the room. I couldn’t help but wonder. I was also relieved to find myself eating alone as whoever had been sitting opposite me would have definitely walked away feeling morally superior as the neatly wrapped steamed bundles continuously slipped unceremoniously off my chopsticks.
But onto the food, I’d been random in my selection, choosing the white innocent looking shrimp dumplings (VND70,400), which proved a great opener, and despite the sauna effect my mouth experienced as I plunged in too early, the pleasing translucent wrapping lovingly cradled some seriously meaty shrimp. This was followed by a delightful trio of fried meat and chives that were crispy pancake textured, the bundles of aromatic joy (VND66,000) left me none the wiser as to whether there was any actual meat in them.
The pork ribs (VND59,000) reminded me that Chinese-style ribs aren’t any different to Vietnamese ribs in their ease of eating, with the inch-long strips of bone despite cradling respectable amounts of tender flesh not giving up their bounty easily.
The minced pork and beef balls (VND66,000 and VND59,400 respectively) weren’t really so much to my taste, as I found the texture of steamed meat too much on the gluey side of my texture palate. The golden pork topped with crab eggs faired better (VND59,400). For contrast I moved onto a wanton ox beef soup which proved an interesting combination of rich beef stock, crumbling, flaking slow cooked beef cubes flavoured similarly to southern Vietnamese Bo Kho, but infused with the savoury sweet flavours of anise and cinnamon and some rather less inspiring egg noodles (VND99,000). To cap off the meal I downed a passable but not amazing jellied mango dessert swimming in fresh cream, that didn’t strike me as particularly authentic (VND55,000).
Despite the obligatory and much needed mouth-cooling jasmine tea, I took an ordinary orange soda (VND70,000) and finished off with a latte to complete the dislocated East-West confusion that hung over the meal (VND90,000). Despite the VND789,558 price tag (beware the additional 5% service charge and 10% VAT), I feel strangely compelled to visit again for the quite surreal ambience.
Fortuna Hotel, 6B Lang Ha, Ba Dinh, Tel: 3831 3333
Food: 9 Service: 9 Interior: 8
Food, Interior and Service are each rated on a scale of 0 to 15
13 — 15 extraordinary to perfection
10 — 12.5 very good to excellent
8 — 9.5 good to very good
5 — 7.5 fair to good
0 — 4.5 poor to fair
The Word reviews restaurants anonymously and pays for all meals