A Vietnamese goddess towers over the dining room. Exotic. Mysterious. Voluptuous.
Madame Hanoi embodies her surroundings. She is the creation of imagination and edible magic. Madame Hanoi is a mural, the work of local body paint artist Emma Hack, who joined the journey to complement the food, wine and dessert creations of chef Nic Watt. Hack’s creation is a larger than life depiction of days gone by, yet it is futuristic in more than one sense.
While Madame Hanoi is part of a commercially driven complex, she is still unique in her own special way. While the art is admirable, we are here for the food. And it arrives minutes after ordering. Muc sua chien gion is crisp fried baby squid with a zingy hit of smoked chilli and kaffir lime.
Son-in-law duck eggs with a crunchy coating are served on a bed of shallots, coriander and Vietnamese mint. Seasoned with tamarind chilli and cooked perfectly, these are a table favourite.
La lot ca song is thinly slivered kingfish with shredded green mango, peanut and mint in a sweet peppery nam jim coating. Silky delicate flesh is interrupted by a peanut crunch; mint adds freshness to equalise the tart under-ripe mango.
Nam jim sauce is a well rounded balance of sweet, salty and spicy. Salt and pepper tofu prepared with coriander, chilli and lime is simply divine. A delicate batter envelopes silky tofu, which holds together under the pressure of chopsticks until the critical moment it passes the lips.
Flavoursome shredded beef is wrapped in betel leaves. A sprinkling of crushed peanuts adds texture and a punchy satay taste. Canh ga chien nuoc mam – crispy fried chicken wings with fish sauce, red chilli and mint – is equal parts delicate and spicy.
It’s the freshness of these dishes that really stands out.
Of course there is no better way to wash down a Vietnamese feast of flavours than with a brilliant pale ale. The one we choose is from Pirate Life Brewing, a local newcomer producing some very drinkable brews. In case it isn’t yet obvious, the food here is good – really good in fact. But the design is also something to behold. The restaurant is a series of spaces bridging the gap between old and new. A
pressed tin ceiling in the main bar space reflects dark timber-clad walls and parquetry flooring. Whoever designed this space has class, and, by the look of things, a very generous budget. The place has been created to draw crowds, and it does.
Upstairs, a special loft dining space sits beneath a low arched ceiling, giant windows shedding light during the day and the bright lights of nearby buildings on North Terrace at night. Waiters whizz by with dishes and drinks of all colours and flavours.
A heightened atmosphere with the steady beat of a brilliant soundtrack turned to maximum dining volume.
Madame Hanoi is a complete story. She is beauty, grace and power: a triple threat in the art of food and wine.
Monday to Friday: 7.30am until late (breakfast, lunch & dinner)
Saturday to Sunday: 11am until late (lunch and dinner)