Dongcheng Bar Street has a new addition to its ever expanding range of places to eat. Sen Vietnamese restaurant has recently opened to offer a taste of the Mekong on your doorstep. Having lived in Vietnam last year, I decided to check it out for myself and see if it was up to scratch. Given that my expectations were probably a little high due to the fact I have sampled the cuisine first hand, it still felt there was something lacking. From the get go, I did not see a single shred of written Vietnamese.
I was handed a tablet to peruse the menu, which was only in Chinese. Most of the pictures had English descriptions in the corner, but as for the rest, I was left guessing. Call me old fashioned, but I still prefer leafing through a traditional menu. There were a few examples of genuine Vietnamese selections; an abundance of leaves, lime and chopped chili being a pre-requisite. Unfortunately there was nothing I could see differentiating between cuisines from Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, which in essence are not the same.
Some of the dishes touted ‘Sen’ style, which presumably was due to the addition of lotus seeds, being that sen means lotus in Vietnamese. There were generic curries and seafood available, with crabs topping RMB 200. I was very tempted by the grilled king prawn with mozzarella, but felt RMB 68 for one was a touch pricey. I spurned the archetypal pork chop and finally settled on the beef in betel leaves.
What the restaurant failed to realize was this is actually a similar dish that most Vietnamese eat for breakfast called bun cha. Although they had the correct ingredients, they also did not know how it should be served. I had to explain that a bowl of hot water was needed to put the thin white noodles and nettles leaves in, to which they were quite surprised.
The selection of desserts was mediocre and there wasn’t even any Vietnamese beer. The first thing one should feel in a foreign restaurant is authenticity and for me, in Sen, it isn’t quite there yet.
Find the restaurant here.