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La Carambole (Hue, Vietnam)

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Location: 19 Pham Ngu Lao St, Hue City

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      23.03.2011 11:07
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      A Western-Asian restaurant that didn't quite work for me.

      La Carambole is a French-Vietnamese restaurant in Hue, Central Vietnam. It is based on Pham Ngu Lao Street, which is a very popular and lively street with a number of restaurants and bars on. We went on a recommendation from our tour guide and the Lonely Planet guide and got a taxi from our hotel. There were seven of us in total and we turned up mid-week and were lucky to be seated. I would strongly recommend booking if you plan to eat here. As there were no seats inside, we were asked if we minded being seated outside. This was fine and they led us through the restaurant and out to the side. The table they mustered together for us seemed to be in the car park! There were other tables out here and it was near an entrance to a neighbouring hotel, so sometimes taxis and cars were reversing down this driveway to get to the hotel, spewing fumes out which was not pleasant, fortunately it was also not frequent.

      The menu offers a range of Vietnamese and European dishes. As a vegetarian it offered a selection of about five or six dishes, however having been in Vietnam a week, vegetarian spring rolls and stir-fried tofu with mixed vegetables, however nice, were starting to lose their appeal for the fourth night in a row. One of our party had read in their Guide Book that the pizzas were nice, so we both went for that. Others in the party had seafood pasta and Spaghetti Bolognese, whilst some went for more traditional fish dishes. We didn't have to wait long for our food, in spite of the fact we were a largish party who had just turned up. The pizzas were nice, very cheesy, but tasty, however they were quite small, being probably only 7-8" in diameter. Thus, we also ordered a side portion of fries to go with them which came promptly. The Spaghetti Bolognese, with a massive pile of parmesan on the top seemed to be a bit of a disappointment. She struggled on stoically, but you could tell she wasn't really enjoying it. It seemed to be lacking the flavours we would expect at home, but that is always the risk you take when ordering Western food in Asia. However, with one of the owners being French, we did have higher expectations for the European foods. The seafood pasta was deemed a success however. My other half had the five spiced fish, which was supposed to be one of the restaurant's signature dishes (according to the Lonely Planet guide), this and the other fish selections seemed to be more successful.

      Although they do sell wine, we went for either soft drinks or local beers and these were all served chilled in cans, as is the norm here. The service was acceptable, but we did have to ask several times for things like glasses to pour our drinks into, and for missing cutlery. There were plenty of staff here, they were all decked out in matching red tops which complemented the table cloths and some of the internal décor and were very willing, even if they were rushed as the restaurant was so busy. I can't comment a great deal on the internal décor, as we were seated outside, but I did see lots of lanterns and decorative pieces hanging from the ceiling and the style seemed to suit the French-Vietnamese concept they were trying to push. The atmosphere out in the car park wasn't great, I would think the restaurant would have been buzzing more inside but cannot comment for sure. There were about six-eight tables outside; most of the clientele were Western.

      I have to say that whilst this wasn't the worst meal we had in Vietnam (no meals we had could really be described as bad anywhere in the country), this was probably one of the most disappointing as far as expectations were concerned. I think the moral of the story is, if you are eating at a restaurant that is recommended by a major guide book, then expect the restaurant to be busy, usually with Westerners, but also expect it to have lost its edge. I just felt the restaurant felt that it didn't have to try, which was something I didn't really get elsewhere in Vietnam, where they are generally passionate and enthusiastic about their food. We tried other restaurants that were listed in various guide books however, and they were fine, it just seems that La Carambole, at least on the night that we went, was not worthy of its inclusion. Price wise the meal was exceptionally good value - compared to British prices. However I also had better value meals in Vietnam. I believe my small pizza, small fries and fizzy drink cost approximately £3.

      By all means give this a go, my pizza was lovely, if on the small size for a main/evening meal but in such a lively street and a reasonably good sized city as Hue, I think you will find better European style restaurants as well as better Vietnamese ones.

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