I don’t know if this is true for the rest of the county, but it’s an odd time for restaurants in the East Riding. There seems to be a lot of new places opening and just as many closing. Often it’s the same restaurant with just a few months between both events. From a boom around 2017 to a noticeable drop-off over the last year, the sector seems to be going through a worrying churn.
What highlighted this to me is the restaurant I planned to review this week closed down on the day I was due to visit, so I replaced it with one that had opened only a few days before. I checked and at least three of the restaurants I’ve reviewed over the past year closed their doors within months of opening them. I’d praised them all, as well. It wasn’t as if they were doing anything wrong. A little worrying, then, that the new Vietnamese restaurant I visited – Long An – inhabits a building that’s been home to two other operations in the past three years.
What bodes well, however, for this new venture is that it’s in very safe hands. Anh T Nguyen and his wife Hien had experience of running restaurants in Sheffield before moving to Hull around three years ago to open the very popular (but very small) Viet Memories. It’s just off Ferensway, right in the heart of the city, and always seems to be packed out whenever I pass.
Long An – a short walk further up and also just off Ferensway – is their attempt to open something a little less street foody and more refined. Very good it is, too.
Hien runs front of house and her tight and friendly team of waiting staff take excellent care of you as you navigate your way through the enticing, undaunting and relatively brief menu. Dishes with fascinating Vietnamese names are thoroughly explained in English, so you don’t need to feel uncertain as you order.
I had a starter of goi buoi bo, which is a beef and pomelo salad. Anyone concerned that the two may not be natural bedfellows is recommended to try it. It’s quite a revelation. Torn pomelo chunks and strips of beef are mixed in with slivers of mango, carrot, cucumber, peanut and various herbs, the dish is amazingly well-balanced, light and quite delicious. Even the spun rice basket it sits in crumbles nicely into the mix and adds a bit more texture. Though, knowing me, I’ll find out at some point that it’s actually inedible.
We tried another starter of siron heo chua cay – crispy pork spare ribs in a spicy tamarind sauce. You have to try really hard to mess up ribs but it also takes real skill to make them taste unfamiliar. These came served with a pickle that added a fruity/sour tang that lifted them above the everyday.
Mains brought baked duck dish vit nurong mat ong, which featured a perfectly-cooked honey-glazed breast, offered up with sticky rice topped with a soft fried quail’s egg, a soy dip and salads of mango and veg and lettuce and coriander. There were a few slices of chilli scattered around but I avoided these as I’m rubbish with chillies. I’m glad I did because I could enjoy a wonderfully presented dish without fighting a burning tongue.
Equally good was heo quay kho dira chua, belly pork stewed in a pot with pickled cabbage, pineapple and a caramelised garlic sauce. The Vietnamese version of a hot-pot and completely glorious. Once all the pieces had been eaten, I found myself pouring the remaining juice from the pot over rice, the better to eke the dish out as long as possible.
I hesitate before mentioning desserts because they were, frankly, pretty poor. If you go to Long An (and you really should) don’t have the puds. One was a really bland panna cotta thing, the other was che chuol len dia – a Mekong Delta platter consisting of three banana-based puddings that included an even-worse-than-school frogspawn-style tapioca. I wish I could be more encouraging but I would be lying.
Ignore the puddings then, revel in the rest, accept the bill (£90 including drinks) as high but fair and have a very enjoyable meal. The East Riding may be going through restaurants at a somewhat alarming rate but Long An appears to be a winner to me. It just needs to find a clientele and, judging by the night we spent there, that shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
Long An, Paragon Square, Hull, HU1 3QT, tel: 01482 229831. Open 11.30am to 10pm, every day.