Only on rare occasions do we find ourselves eating Vietnamese food in Bangkok, but when we do it will always be at Le Dalat Vietnamese Restaurant. It has yet to disappoint. On this visit we call in with my sister who I recommended Le Dalat to over 5 years ago. Now with a return visit to Bangkok she’s hankering to get back for a return visit. Yes, Le Dalat Vietnamese Restaurant has been around for quite some time, with a steady flow of loyal eaters and while relatively low key it is lauded by many as the best Vietnamese Restaurant in Bangkok. I find it hard to disagree. So this visit is at the restaurants new location (it moved in 2009) and while Le Dalat can still be found on the same soi of Sukhumvit 23, it is now located on the quieter, more amiable stretch of the road, hidden in a secret garden nearing the end of the cul-de-sac. The setting is charming and surprisingly serene for the area and the complex and restaurant design reflects the beauty of the’La Belle Epoque’ era of Indochina. The experience is elegant yet quirky, serviced with smiles and slight mischief (highlighted at the bottom). I arrive late to the table to find a half nibbled set of appetizers. Soon a bottle of Gewürztraminer wine arrives to the table and is served by the ever-so-smiley sommelier in his classical Vietnamese attire.
The menu at Le Dalat is quite extensive, probably the longest I’ve seen at a Vietnamese restaurant. All the favourites are there of spring rolls, Pho soups and healthy wraps, but for today we will go with the less familiar. Of all cuisines in Asia, Vietnam is the last place I’d expect to find a curry, so I was in no doubt intrigued. Another less familiar spare ribs dish was also ordered (I forget the name) and for nibbles we snack on fresh spring rolls (Goi Cuon) with fresh prawns and a sweet chilli and peanut dip (Nuoc Leo) – one of my favourite foods of anywhere. We also order the Cha Ca (turmeric fish) a dish which completely failed to excite us at its origins on Hanoi’s Cha Ca street in Vietnam. Surprisingly this Cha-Ca was a whole lot better. With so many dips, herbs and all-sorts on the table it soon became a free for all, tasting anything and everything, herbs dipped in the Cha-Ca’s dip, Cha-Ca in the Nuoc Leo, spring rolls probably in the curry (we’re a classy bunch). This is what I love about Vietnamese food, the variety and balance of fresh herbs and flavours, there’s just so much to taste and whether right or wrong, it’s always good fun. In the end we share the recommended Che dessert (Che Quay Moam) of sweet coconut milk with ginkgo nuts. All great food.
Before we leave I am ushered awkwardly to one of the back rooms of the restaurant, “You’re taking me where? The Toilet?” I follow hesitantly with cheeks firmly clenched. The ladies are soon led behind to the ladies room. Hysterics and giggles ensue “You have to see this…” The hilarity was probably best suited to the females of the group, but I do laugh along with the infectious enthusiasm. Apparently the late owner of Le Dalat had novelty toilet humor, and where better to share this than in the potty. To be fair his was more high-end toilet humor, a lot of effort went into the decoration and while it didn’t quite fit the authentic and antique interiors of the restaurant, it was entertaining, unexpected and fun.