Owner and executive chef Hoang Nguyen opened Cutisun just over three years ago. Since that time, it has expanded from a modest single-room diner to having five dining rooms spread across two restaurants opposite to each other. The name, incidentally, comes from Hoang’s childhood moniker — cu ti sun refers to a small boy whose teeth have gone black from too much candy.
“I love France, and French food,” explains Hoang, describing how his joy for cooking translated into lovingly prepared meals for his friends and family even while he was still working as a journalist.
“The French style of cooking steak is better,” he says. “But in Vietnam, it’s not so easy… Vietnamese people are scared of thick steaks of undercooked meat.”
It’s this appreciation for French cuisine and understanding of Vietnamese tastes that creates Cutisun’s signature fusion. The décor, for example, is intended to combine French style with that of a traditional Vietnamese house. “So many houses in Vietnam were built by the French,” says Hoang. “But this is still Vietnam.”
This fusion is most evident in Cutisun’s greatest appeal; the value. By using local ingredients and local chefs trained by Hoang himself, Cutisun is able to provide delicious meals for even the most thrifty of carnivores. The Vietnamese-style beefsteak (VND70,000) comes with crispy fries, a small side salad, steak sauce of your choice and a warm bread roll. Add to that a glass of chilled house wine (VND28,000) and your entire meal has cost less than five dollars.
Fortunately, however, the devil’s in the details, and the details are delicious. Almost any part of the meal could be elevated to centrepiece status, so let’s start with the sauces.
“The pepper sauce is the best,” suggests Hoang as we consider our order, “because it’s the most French.”
I’ve also enjoyed the BBQ and creamy cheese sauces on previous visits, and feel they’re equally delectable. The rainbow of sauces continues with the various side salads (VND25,000). The slightly sour balsamic vinaigrette feels the most French, the decadently rich mulberry feels the naughtiest, while the sweet and bitter passion fruit sauce finds balance in the middle.
As our French photographer was glazed over in a trance-like state recalling the tastes of Marseilles, she nodded her approval as Hoang informed us that Cutisun only serves homemade bread. It arrives at the table included with every order of meat, a soft warm roll that has the side effect of inducing a deep meditative nostalgia if inhaled too deeply.
The beef used in the Vietnamese beefsteak option is rump steak, and retains enough tenderness despite the noticeable lack of real steak knives. Only the leanest cuts of local meat are used to ensure the quality stays high while the price stays low.
The menu includes other options, although Hoang is keen to emphasise that they are exactly that.
“The beef is the best,” he says, “but we had to include other options after some customers complained about us only serving steak.”
BBQ pork ribs (VND75,000) and a lamb rack (VND150,000) are the best examples of those options, and you can even find spaghetti dishes of Bolognese (VND55,000) and carbonara (VND62,000) which are perfect for children or as indulgent side dishes.
Cutisun is located at 120 Hoang Hoa Tham, Ba Dinh, Hanoi. Bookings and delivery available on 0915 008448. Open daily from 10am to 9.30pm