In 2007, the opening of Hao Dang’s Vietnamese restaurant, in Northampton town centre, was a bit of an event in the town’s culinary calendar.
With no other Vietnamese restaurants in the area at that time, Hao’s flavoursome noodle soups and other traditionally-made meat, fish and veggie dishes caused a bit of a stir... not least with the experts behind foodie bible, The Michelin Guide.
The following year, Dang’s Vietnamese Cuisine was given its first listing and this year Hao is proudly celebrating her fifth consecutive mention in The Michelin Guide; the only Northampton restaurant to have achieved this record.
Hao said: “To be recommended for the first time was amazing in itself. To keep that consistency, it makes you think you have to take your food to the next level. I was very surprised and so proud that I have been able to keep up the standard.
“The first time we were mentioned in the guide was the second year we opened. The expert came into the restaurant and business was slow; at that time a lot of businesses were struggling.
“It was quiet and when he came in, I was in the kitchen and serving at the same time. I didn’t know who he was but he was asking a lot of questions about the ingredients and I was able to answer immediately, so he was impressed with that.
“When he paid for his meal he also gave me his business card. I was thinking ‘I don’t need your business card,’ but when I inspected it, I realised ‘oh my goodness, it’s The Michelin Guide.’ That is when I started panicking and thinking ‘was everything ok, was I ok?’ A lot of things were going through my head. Now I can’t explain how happy I am.”
Hao need not have worried because the people behind The Michelin Guide continued to be impressed and this recognition has certainly helped draw in the customers.
“Being in the guide has made a huge difference,” Hao said. “We have those who are regulars now and the public who looked at The Michelin Guide and came from far away; they even come from London and Birmingham to try us out.”
She now hopes to not only continue this restaurant but eventually open a larger venue, with more culinary possibilities, offering “Michelin star quality finishing,” and food from Vietnam, as well as from other countries with similar culinary styles, such as China and Thailand.
“There is a difference between Michelin star and Michelin Guide,” Hao explained. “The star is more about the setting, how extravagant the restaurant is and about the presentation of the food, it has to be Michelin star finishing. Being in the guide is about home-made food, a consistently high quality and value for money.”
Hao, who is currently working on a new menu, earned a good grounding in cookery growing up in Vietnam. She explained: “I come from a family of nine; I was the oldest daughter. In Vietnam you did not get state benefits and our parents had seven of us. They had to go to work to put a roof over our heads. I had a lot of responsibility to cook for my brothers and sisters while my parents worked.”
She added: “The vast majority of what we serve here is authentic. We try to keep it as authentic as possible, but we have to be selective and make sure the dishes are all things that people would like to try.”