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In the Spirit of Bia Hoi – Restaurant Hà

by Jason

The term “fusion” in the food world has become the ginger buzz-word that no one likes to use or knowledge anymore, instead, choosing words like, “nouveau” or “modern” in its place to rationalize a menu that interweaves two different types of cuisine or to exemplify a chef’s take on a particular food. What I enjoy (and don’t enjoy) the most is seeing Asian-fusion restaurants and menus. I often deem these places as serving food that tries to introduce Asian cuisine to non-Asian palates, easing in uses of Asian cooking ingredients that aren’t too weird or will freak out the masses. I recently checked out Restaurant Hà that represents themselves in the spirit of a “Bia Loi” – a Vietnamese street corner watering hole that serving quick bites – with a South-East Asian inspired menu.

Restaurant Ha’s menu is divided into different sections: soups, cold dishes, hot dishes, buns and desserts. We ordered a dish from each section to try and get a sense of the menu. The papaya salad was light and refreshing. Thin strips of julienned green papaya, mixed with pickled carrots, cherry tomatoes, shaved radish, topped with cilantro, fried shallots and crushed shrimp chips.

It was definitely a very pretty dish to look at. The dressing was tart and slightly sweet and complimented all the elements of the salad nicely. I advise you to eat the prawn chips fist and not mix them in with the rest of the salad, they will get waterlogged quickly and render down to a soggy fishy tasting pulp.

Everyone likes buns right, especially pork belly baos. Restaurant Ha puts their own unique spin on this traditional Chinese classic by colouring their buns with squid ink. Very generous unctuous slabs of soy braised pork belly sandwiched in fluffy black buns with pickled vegetables, topped with fried shallots and cilantro.

The squid ink gave the normally sweet bun a more savoury note. The Pork was sweet but I had a hard time tasting anything outside of the pickled vegetables (that added great texture and crunch to each bite.)

The soup section included the Vietnamese staple beef pho. A deep and rich beef bone broth simmered with aromatics served with rice noodles, bean sprouts and thai basil. When I have pho, I’ll always taste the soup first before I put any of the accoutrements in my bowl. You always want to do this, for the same reason why you would taste your food first instead of blindly adding salt and pepper… wait a minute, I know people who do this. Anyways, the soup was acrid that practically bordered on unpleasant. Yes it was flavourful, but it was so salty that it was hard to enjoy. Perhaps the soup had reduced too much and gone too far – which is what I’m thinking because of the scum that was floating in the broth and sediment that coated the sides of the bowl.

Call me a traditionalist, but I didn’t like that my beansprout and basil portion was predetermined – I don’t like too much basil in my pho. I guess I could have taken some out, but that’s besides the point. There’s a reason why the eater is given the entire sprig of basil – to keep it fresh and the visual appeal of the vibrant colour opens your appetite. When you chiffonade a delicate herb like that – the thing turns BLACK. It’s unsightly and unappetizing to see a pile of oxidizing greens on top of your bowl.

Mr. Ha’s classic coconut salmon. A salmon fillet covered in a sweet and citrusy soy sauce glaze topped with pickled vegetables, bean sprouts and arugula.

It was a bit disappointing to find the fish over cooked and dry. The glaze that was sweet and savoury with hints of ginger and sesame was smokey and contrasted the thick creaminess of the coconut milk. The mix of coconut essence and aromatics of the glaze was way too floral for me that even the bitter greens wasn’t able to subdue the overpowering taste and smell.

Ha’s menu is an amalgamation of tastes and flavours of South-East Asia created by the late Mr. Hà. The place was happening the night we dined there, the terrasse was packed with locals whom the servers seemed very well acquainted with. The atmosphere was fun and energetic, and the menu was not – for the most part – for an Asian palate (mine,) which is ok. For those who want to explore flavours of South-East Asian fusion with a glass of wine or drink, Ha has a great wine and cocktail list as well.

Restaurant Ha
243 Mont-Royal O.
(514) 848-0336

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