In among the bustle of downtown Hoan Kiem lives Highway 4, an elegant yet laid-back setting with a knockout menu and an impressive selection of award-winning traditional rice liquors, all under the roof of a renovated French villa dating back to the 1950s; yellow brick with an inviting sign hanging over the door, nestled in green ivy.


Once inside, Highway 4 offers multiple storeys of carefully crafted atmosphere. The first floor doesn’t leave much space to walk around, a few rich wooden benches stand between busy walls — old paintings and maps of Hanoi provide a visual reminder of the city’s history, and plants and candles add to the comfortable feel.

 

“Highway 4 isn’t just about the food or the drink, it’s about the experience,” says owner Dan Dockery, and it’s easy to see what he’s getting at. The restaurant has a down-to-earth feel about it, the kind of place you can sit down with friends and family to enjoy each other’s company. Highway 4’s food menu is largely comprised of Vietnamese meze style dishes giving a real essence of communal dining, and offers a huge variety of traditional fare inspired from all regions of Vietnam.

 

Combination

 

 

The first dish that I eat is one that has become something of a sensation among Hanoi’s food lovers — the mouth-watering Highway 4 catfish spring rolls (VND68,000). Their reputation is well deserved; this is a traditional dish with a twist. Delicious catfish with fresh dill and mayonnaise are wrapped in rice paper and accompanied by a sensational oyster sauce and wasabi dip. The influence of French and Japanese cuisine on this traditional Vietnamese dish is certainly noticeable — it’s a combination like no other.

 

After finishing my first plate I try one of Highway4’s award-winning rice liquors under the Son Tinh brand name, a 375ml bottle of which costs between VND228,000 and VND378,000. There are 12 flavours to choose from, ranging from apricot to white ginseng. The Son Tinh Distillery is located less than 30km from Hoan Kiem Lake and Son Tinh is Vietnam’s first and only internationally awarded liquor brand, honoured with a hatful of medals at liquor competitions as far apart as the UK, Austria, Hong Kong, Australia and the USA. The liquor is a warm and smooth complement to the meal, and the flavours only increase my appetite.

 

Chirp and chatter

 

 

My next course is pork hanger steak grilled with talauma seeds (VND128,000). This often overlooked but delicious cut of pork is flavour enhanced all the more by the presence of the rare talauma seeds native to northern Vietnam. On the side I order a plate of crickets roasted with lemon leaves (VND68,000). Both plates are full of flavour and are accompanied with a variety of fresh herbs and salad. The crickets, one of Highway 4’s more exotic plates, make a welcome treat to snack on under the canopy of chatter and the faint but present buzz of Hanoi’s Old Quarter outside.

 

Highway 4 has something to offer for every diner, its range of meze-style plates, rice and noodle dishes, salads, broths and exotic specials are an exhibition for the tastebuds and the wonderfully unique and flavoursome Son Tinh sticky rice liquor is a perfect sidekick for a friendly gathering.

 

The staff is friendly, the atmosphere is warm, and the food is excellent. Vietnam has some great cuisine, but it’s often scattered here and there, individual dishes reserved to out of the way places. Highway 4 is a hub of Vietnamese flavours all in one place. — Billy Gray

 

The Highway 4 I visited is located at 5 Hang Tre, Hoan Kiem. They have three other restaurants in Hanoi: 575 Kim Ma, Ba Dinh; 25 Bat Su, Hoan Kiem and 101 Tran Thai Tong, Cau Giay. You can find them online at highway4.com/en

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