Judging by their internet presence, you’d think Salmonoid was the work of an established restaurateur, with years of experience crafting culinary brands. “Homing like a salmon,” says their website; a motto with a more literal interpretation than I’d expected. Because it’s not some flashy commercial enterprise after all, but rather, a family passion project.
I met with sisters-in-law Doan Binh Giang and Le Ngoc Quynh one afternoon in the restaurant’s elegant dining room, little spots of sunlight illuminating the wine glasses and silverware in front of us. The brick walls are painted white, with skinny black pipes that end in round, glowing orbs of light, embodying a clean, geometric style crafted by their friend and architect, Le Nguyen Tien Thanh, who designed everything, even down to the tables and chairs.
Giang, a loquacious 25-year-old in a t-shirt and red lipstick, explained that it was 29-year-old Quynh’s travels and passion for food that initially inspired the endeavour. While studying in France, Quynh’s favourite restaurant just so happened to be a bistro that specialised in salmon. She longed to bring the concept to Vietnam and give it an international twist, so in June 2015, Salmonoid was hatched.
“The owners of this restaurant are all young, my brother, sister-in-law, me and two friends,” explained Giang. “When we first started, we all had other jobs, and we still do now.” When I asked how they managed to juggle all of this, she smiled. “Instead of taking our lunch, we come here!” This dedication is evident in the food — carefully crafted with the goal of making culinary art accessible for everyone.
Say it with Salmon
The starter was a saffron salmon bisque (VND100,000), creamy and savoury, with drizzled cream and a stalk of greenery adding an attractive contrast of colour. The soup was accented with soft, homemade bread of a similar hue (saffron being the culprit here, though I secretly hoped they’d figured out a way to make salmon bread). A salmon kumquat salad (VND140,000) counteracted the soup’s richness, juicy pieces of sesame-coated salmon artfully arranged between little hills of leafy greens, kumquats, and gboma, a small green relative of the aubergine and a signature ingredient in Vietnamese cuisine, often served pickled.
As we waited for the main course, I asked Giang about their chef. She said that 29-year-old Nguyen Hai Ha learned to cook at Hoa Sua, a training restaurant that teaches culinary skills to disadvantaged youth. Now with 10 years of kitchen experience, Ha works with Quynh to design internationally-inspired seasonal menus, using imported Norwegian salmon and fresh Vietnamese ingredients.
Our entree was Salmonoid’s version of surf and turf — Australian steak drizzled with a tangy pepper sauce, accompanied by a grilled salmon filet on a bed of ratatouille and herbed potato purée (VND290,000). Hearty and well-rounded, this dish satisfies without weighing you down. Which is lucky, because I needed more stomach space for Salmonoid’s signature — orange-marinated salmon with dill and pepper (VND130,000), served with a velvety cream cheese spread and an array of sauces like sweet balsamic, chili aioli and a house-made mustard.
You’d think I’d want anything but salmon at this point, but when those fresh, raw slices melt in your mouth, the sauce variety keeps things interesting, and all the dishes are so distinctly different, it’s hard to get bored. We ended this salmon feast with a surprise dessert — creme brûlée with a layer of smashed lotus hiding underneath (VND80,000) — a delicious edible analogy for this unique brand of culinary fusion.
Expats and Vietnamese alike come to Salmonoid for the food, but the restaurant has another tantalizing draw — romance. Giang’s eyes sparkled as she leaned across the table with important news.
“I’m very happy to say that we’ve already had three proposals!” she grinned. Something about this place appeals to Hanoi’s lovers. It must have been the twinkling lights on the rooftop terrace, those post-wine-and-dine endorphins, and spoonfuls of that lavishly sweet lotus. Or, you know, maybe they just love salmon. — Jesse Meadows
Salmonoid is at 32C Cao Ba Quat, Ba Dinh, Hanoi