Address: 10 Dang Thai Mai, Tay Ho, Ha Noi
Directions: Next to Sao Mai swimming pool
Description: A restaurant and event space in the West Lake area.
The first syllable of Sum villa is taken from the Vietnamese term for reunion – Sum Hop. It’s the American-Vietnamese owner’s idea; a place for overseas Vietnamese to get together and enjoy Vietnamese food when back in the home country.
Situated in the villa Tay Ho complex on Dang Thai Mai Road, the restaurant dominates a large area, covering more than 2,000sq.m along the north side of West Lake. But despite its bulk, it can be easily missed because it is set well back from the road, at the far end of the lengthy driveway leading to Sao Mai swimming pool.
At the foot of the imposing spotlit frontage are placed a dozen or so dining tables. The fresh air and views across Ha Noi’s grandest lake make it ideal for alfresco dining in the summer but on a chilly Saturday night (by Vietnamese standards) it is better to venture indoors.
Unlike many Vietnamese restaurants in the city centre where one is often shoved up against strangers, the red and black themed tables in Sum villa are a respectable distance apart, making it the ideal place for a quiet chat or a romantic dinner date. The decor is modern Asian with a Western influence, as evidenced by the cutlery.
As usual with a traditional Vietnamese meal, the starter menu offers a variety of soups – the essence of Vietnamese cuisine; apart from providing a nutritious blessing, the balance of ying and yang is always taken into account by conscientious chefs.
The restaurant’s head chef recommended scallop and mushroom soup for our starter. He says that the mushroom helps smooth blood circulation and the scallops… well the scallops just make the soup tasty.
Whatever the medical truth, we liked the soup for its appearance. It was served in an emerald fish-shaped bowl beached on a black square plate. The soup was rather ordinary but the presentation was a work of art.
Normally, when eating a Vietnamese meal all the various dishes are served at once so that everyone can share, but here things are done Western-style, the idea perhaps is to create a selective environment for a selective clientele.
“We cook Vietnamese foods but we serve them as in the West, so everyone, both locals and foreigners, can try the food,” the head chef said.
Our second dish was prawn salad. It is an innovative dish, which instead of using conventional ingredients such as carrots, cucumber and tomatoes, consisted of plump prawns and tropical fruits. The chef had put a lot of effort into moulding the salad, which was served on a lacquer plate, into a heart shape. The addition of sweet fish sauce and vinegar, as is typical in a Vietnamese vegetable salad, gave the fruit a juicy liveliness.
Many gourmets consider Vietnamese food a bit plain and light when compared to the foods of India or Thailand say. But our next dish, clam rolls, couldn’t be accused of banality.
It was our favourite. Clam and minced pork rolls, like stubby sausages, served with pickled cabbage. The dish is much like German sausage served with sauerkraut, but less fatty, more herby and much smaller.