Restaurant review: Hello Vietnam
Faced with two extra six-foot plus teens to feed, one of them a visiting No 8 for the Nelson College First XV, we were looking for somewhere cheap and cheerful.
Hello Vietnam fit the bill. We got a friendly welcome and a large corner table with a lazy Susan accommodated our party of seven. The restaurant looks a bit sterile from the outside, with the two exterior walls mostly glass, and inside some neon blue ceiling lights give the impression of a souped-up Subaru, but the nearly full room was warm and welcoming.
Although it was set off its own car park just behind Riccarton Rd, it could have been a fancy restaurant in Saigon.
Hungry teens means quick appetisers are a must and we didn't go wrong with fresh spring rolls, fried spring rolls and crispy squid. The latter is a family favourite and Hello Vietnam does a superior version. As we later surmised, someone in the kitchen was a fry master and the servers knew the importance of getting those dishes on the table as soon as they left the fryer. The squid was perfectly light and crispy and the squid was tender.
I wish the fried spring rolls (six in an order) had come with lettuce and fresh herbs to make inside-out rolls as they often do in Vietnam, but they were tasty and crunchy. I washed them down with a Vietnamese 333 beer and was inwardly proud that when I ordered it by its Vietnamese name, "bababa", the waitress knew what I meant. My wife loved her Vietnamese iced coffee with condensed milk and all the kids got light and refreshing iced lemon.
The large fresh rolls (three to a serving) were filled with pork, shrimp, vermicelli noodles and lettuce but could have used more fresh herbs for more punch.
The rest of our meal was a mix of kid-friendly fare (fried chicken nibbles with garlic and barbecue pork fried egg noodles); old Vietnamese favourites (sweet and sour fish fillets, stir fried beans with garlic and special fried spring rolls and grilled pork on rice vermicelli) and a couple of dishes we had never tried before (lemongrass and chilli tofu and the special beef pho).
The bowl of vermicelli noodle salad with spring rolls and grilled pork looked beautiful but again I missed the punch of fresh herbs that often elevate this dish from good to great.
Pho is the national dish of Vietnam and the special beef version featured parts of a cow I usually avoid: tripe, tendon and other unrecognisable organs. It was served with a plate of bean sprouts to add but again I missed the big basket of fresh basil, coriander and mint that usually come with pho in Vietnam. The broth was deeply flavoured although I missed the distinctive tang of star anise. I was game, but I couldn't get the tripe down although the adventurous teens did. I usually stick to thinly sliced beef and brisket in my pho and I probably will again.
The sweet and sour fish was excellent: The tender fish fillets were light, crisp, fresh and delicious with julienned capsicums and carrots and thin threads of red onion in a light sweet and sour sauce. But the surprise star of the night was the lemongrass and chili tofu. The aromatic lemongrass was infused throughout the tofu which once again was fried perfectly and the chilli/garlic sauce was powerful without being overwhelming.
Even better, the kids were not interested in hoovering up any leftovers, as they had with every other dish, and I got a delicious lunch out of simple tofu and rice the next day.
I love Vietnamese food so I'm happy to keep searching and welcome suggestions, but for now, Hello Vietnam is a contender for the tastiest Vietnamese food in Christchurch.
HELLO VIETNAM: AT A GLANCE
8/235 Riccarton Rd
Ph (03) 341 2258
Open: Daily: 11.30am-2.30pm; 5pm-10pm
Price: appetisers from $8.50, mains from $13
Cost: $136 for seven (excluding drinks)
Drinks list ★★