Smoked salmon is so easy to get wrong. Buy the over-farmed or rapid-cure variety and you may find yourself pulling bits of bland stringy stuff out of your teeth, wondering whatever happened to the true taste of the smoked salmon of yesteryear. Get it right, from a fine farmer of happy salmon and the situation flips on its head; silken folds of fish dissolve on the tongue, leaving both a smoky taste – at once tart and salty and succulent with oil – and, of course, the desire for another mouthful.
I’m a massive fan of how they do it at the Hotel Metropole in Hanoi, where the salmon is traditionally served with all condiments, muslin-wrapped lemon and a shot of the smoothest sort of vodka that ex-pat oligarchs might use to toast the Mother Country. The star of the platter is home-smoked, from Norway and boy, is it ever good. So good, in fact, that it almost seems a shame to mess with its pure taste by putting anything with it. To spar with the salmon, two small rounds of toasted baguette crowned with different varieties of smoked salmon share the plate. One is marinated in beetroot, Russian-style, giving it sweet earthiness; the other is stained like piccalilli, hot and tart to the tastebuds.
There’s a taste of salmon roe, another of caviar, a shot of cool sour cream and one of softened cubes of onion, but my favourite condiment is that of minced onion with herbs – scattered onto a forkful of smoked salmon with a dash of sour cream, it gives the tastebuds a reason to put on their dancing shoes.
At $19.00 US this isn’t the cheapest of smoked salmon offerings to be found in an international restaurant, but if you like value for money, I’d say that with the generous serving of finest Norwegian salmon and attention to detail in both presentation and quality of ingredients, this is a platter that I won’t forget in a hurry. In homage to a great plate I hereby add it to the Epicurienne Smoked Salmon Hall of Fame.