Ho Bon home
When a Vietnamese friend of mine told me of a new, “great” Vietnamese restaurant in town I couldn’t wait to go. Sadly, my excitement turned to disappointment as plate after plate of edible, but hardly inspiring dishes emerged from a kitchen peopled by suspiciously non-Vietnamese looking chefs.
The place itself is slick, modern and bland. Something no amount of repro Fritz Hansen candy-coloured dining chairs can change, nor the imitation Wagamama, share-the-table concept. None of these are bad things of course, they just seemed cold and out of place somehow. Still, I was looking forward to a bowl of pho (the classic Vietnamese broth enlivened with thick bunches of fresh herbs and chillies). It never arrived, but according to my friend it’s the “star dish”. I certainly hope so, because the mixed Vietnamese tapas—nem (fried spring rolls and fresh salad rolls) and pork dumplings were underwhelming to say the least.
The salad rolls were fat little devils. They gave me hope, only to reveal themselves as mainly vermicelli. The crucial herbs (aroma), carrots and radish (crunch) were mean, and the promised prawn and lacquered pork non-existent. I understand in these difficult times the need to cut back, but skimping on ingredients altogether? What folly. The dipping sauce was a miserable pool of liquid best described as grey. I’ll make the rest brief then, shall I? ‘Crisp’ spring rolls were greasy and flabby. Lettuce: tired and wilted. Herbs: no more than three withered mint leaves
I could have wept. The wonderful thing about Vietnamese food is its spanking freshness, it’s dazzlingly vibrant herbs and spices. This was slumped there, wishing it wasn’t. I hoped the mains would be better, and they were. Marginally. A prawn salad packed a decent punch and the five spice beef would have been a very good British-style stew served with a side of mash, but it was a sorry excuse for something claiming to be born of a Vietnamese grandmother. The best thing in fact was the nuoc cham—a simple dip of salt, pepper and lime juice— ubiquitous to Vietnamese cooking.
Did we have anything else? I barely remember. It was a gloomy start to a Friday night, I know that much. But if any of you go back for the pho, let me know. I’d like to think it was an off night. Everyone deserves a second chance.
Ho Bon Café,
C/Enrique Granados 135, 665 618 880. Open Wed-Sun 7pm-midnight. Approx €25 per head including wine. At lunchtimes it is a sandwich and soup café.