Namaste might well be a derivative of an ancient Sanskrit greeting, but it should rather be ‘welcome home’ for Hanoi’s curry king. Gopi, Namaste’s owner and manager gained a peerless reputation while ruling over his former kingdom at Khazaana, and now, his latest venture has usurped the pretenders upon his return from exile.
The bemoaning, pulling of hair and wails of despair expressed by this city’s residents on hearing of Gopi’s previous departure was akin to the best melodramatic scenes you could find in a Bollywood drama. So what could be more perfectly scripted than the returning hero reclaiming the throne that was rightfully his?
A visit to Namaste is more than a trip down an aromatic meandering memory lane, as Gopi’s new restaurant is located in what was once home to another stalwart of Hanoi’s scene — the R&R Tavern. The transformation is profound, so much so that despite remembering the familiar address on Lo Su, I still drove past, thinking the brightly lit, marbled exterior couldn’t be the same spot as the old bar.
But there it was, luxuriating in bright lights, brass name, and yellow vanilla cream interiors. Service as per usual was warm and efficient; it was our unruly group of four that caused the delays. And as any Indian food critique deserves no half measures, we chose to sample as many dishes as possible.
All You Can Eat
Gingerly flicking through the menu we eventually compiled a list of mains, vegetable side plates, starters, breads and rice that met our mixed Vietnamese and non-Vietnamese palates.
Each of the four papadams provided a crunchy appetiser, accompanied by the typical chutney, mango and mint dips (VND48,000 for four). This was followed by the bhindi Rajasthani (VND55,000), which consisted of fried okra and came coated in a light gram flour batter. The dish was delicately spiced, with a hint of cumin and seemed to come in a vast serving with a large yoghurt accompaniment for dipping. The only drawback for me was the lady-fingered okra, which proved a little too slim for my taste, as it had less give and more chew than I was looking for. However, the vegetable samosas (two pieces) were packed full of pureed vegetables and a thick, but light and crunchy pastry casing (VND55,000 / 2 pieces).
Obviously concerned about under-ordering, we perhaps overcompensated, choosing a treble main course of mutton Shangrilla (VND125,000) and chicken tikka masala (VND100,000), with a vegetable side of aloo simla mirch (VND65,000).
The mutton dish consisted of excellently slow-cooked meat cubes, dowsed in a slight dry sauce pepped up by green peppers, onion and tomato, and while it had a noticeable edge to it in terms of spiciness, it caressed, rather than shocked or awed, our taste buds.
In the Red
The historical roots of chicken tikka masala would take almost the entirety of this review to unravel, as despite the dish being firmly ensconced on Indian restaurant menus the world over, the truth is its origin probably owes more to the Indian diaspora community of the UK (give or take the apocryphal tale about Cambell’s tomato soup providing the base for the sauce). In any case, it proved good value with succulent and ample chicken cubes submerged in a thick, reddish-terracotta sauce enlivened by a vivid splash of cream on the surface. The apparent grittiness that could be seen but not tasted in the sauce clearly indicated the hand-made masala spice-blend used as its basis.
Our vegetable side added sufficient bulk, combining potatoes, green peppers and onions done in a medium spiced turmeric hued sauce. For mopping up and sauce absorbance, we plumped for a cheese stuffed and plain naan (VND45,000 / VND32,000), both of which were excellent, neither too fatty nor thick.
In summary, Namaste has all the makings of a classic feel-good movie plot, and left us all with that warm-fuzzy feeling that only good food, service and company can provide. Welcome home, Gopi.
Namaste Hanoi, 47 Lo Su, Hoan Kiem, Tel: 3935 2400
Food, Decor 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 anonymously and pays for all meals