Destinations like Do Son, Sam Son, and Cua Lo in the north, Lang Co, Da Nang, and Nha Trang in the middle of the country, and Vung Tau and Long Hai in the south are welcoming streams of holiday-makers now schools are closing for summer break.
We had headed to Cat Ba Town on the island of the same name, just as its harbour-front boulevard was bursting with red flamboyant trees in full bloom, admired by thousands strolling by.
Topping the list of restaurants on the island and only five minutes from our hotel, we decided to give Vien Duong a try.
Easily found on Nui Ngoc, one of the main streets in Cat Ba, Vien Duong Restaurant has its entire facade open to customers, with aquariums of fish and squid, shells and shrimps for diners to choose from.
We first had steamed double clams with lemongrass (VND250,000 a kilo). The dish is quite common and found at most restaurants, but here the clams are bigger and tastier so we were keen to try them. They were as delicious as promised!
Next, roasted sun-dried squid (VND350,000), ordered in the belief we would soon be delving into thick, fleshy squid dried naturally for a day before being roasted over charcoal. But it wasn’t what we had expected and was overpriced. Chopped squid had been deep-fried in oil, which drained the juices away and made the squid chewy. Thumbs down.
|ESSENTIAL: Charcoal-roasted oysters with sauteed onions is a must-try. VNS Photo My Ha
Then we had charcoal-roasted oysters (VND150,000 a kilo), which were soft and flavourful. Some of the kids wanted oysters roasted with cheese, but it wasn’t on offer so they settled for the oil and onion variety.
The chef did something we had never seen done elsewhere and which was quite labour intensive for this dish. Every oyster was opened, some stuffing added, then closed and roasted. It wasn’t easy on the eye, but it tasted great.
We were keen for some seafood while in Cat Ba but also wanted some home-style food for the kids, who had been craving rice, meat and vegetables.
We ordered seafood fried rice (VND150,000), which was gone so quickly I didn’t even get a photo. The fried rice was nicely marinated, each grain separate and thick. The chef had played with some crispy rice and sprinkled it on top, which was fun to have. Fried rice is a meal in itself and always so filling.
We had stir-fried nail clams with pineapple (VND150,000) on our return to the restaurant – fresh and delicious and loved by all.
|SOMETHING VARIED: Nail shells stir-fried with pineapple is a different taste to steamed or roasted seafood flavours. VNS Photo My Ha
Someone in our group was on a keto diet, in which a person takes in only 200gr of protein or fat equivalent a day. No rice, sweet food, or sweet drinks.
So we ordered stir-fried morning glory with garlic, a cheap and cheerful dish and a regular on tables during summer. But this was cooked differently and our kids loved it and didn’t need to be persuaded to eat more, as can often be the case.
|SIMPLE IS BEST: Stir-fried morning glory with crushed garlic at Vien Duong. VNS Photo My Ha
Then came the highlight of the whole meal: a combination of seafood and home-style food in one dish: fried egg with hà (barnacle). Collecting them apparently requires a hammer. Here in Cat Ba, the barnacles are so big and tender and really go well with the fried egg.
The fried egg, too, was so much better than what we could cook at home, much to the kids’ delight.
The sour soup with barnacles was also tasty!
On our second visit to Vien Duong, we ordered the morning glory again but the kids weren’t so thrilled this time. I had wanted them to meet the cook and thank him for the food, but after this I knew it wasn’t going to happen.
When you dine in large group, the food can arrive and be gone so quickly you don’t have the time to eat slowly and savour it. It’s either good from the first bite or it’s time to move on. Here they serve large groups pretty quickly, and it seems to be full of groups more so than couples.
It’s like a fast and furious type of restaurant, where you come in hungry and walk out full and content. But you’ll need to find a café afterwards to sit down and catch your breath. VNS
Viễn Dương Seafood Restaurant in Cát Bà
Address: 12 Núi Ngọc St. Cát Bà Town
Comment: Fresh, delicious seafood and home-style dishes at lightning speed
Nguyen My Ha