I have visited Cha Ca La Vong in 2005, 2008 and over the last weekend.
Before I went there, I read some reviews on various travel websites, and there seems to be an overall trend of negative reviews for the place.
'Rip-off', 'over-rated', 'tourist trap', 'rude service' are some of the common complaints. Having read those negative complaints, it made me even more interested to see for myself how the place has changed.
I was told to go upstairs when I arrived at the restaurant. I climbed up the narrow staircase up to the second storey, which was crammed with foreigners and local Vietnamese, seated at tables, all eating the one dish - Cha Ca.
By the way, narrow staircases are the norm in shophouses in the Hanoi Old Quarters, and are not exclusive to Cha Ca La Vong. Just watch your step when you are climbing up and down the stairs.
It didn't take long for the waitress to serve the ingredients for the dish. She also helped to put the few marinated slices of fish together with some spices into the hot pan. After that, you are in total control of how you want your dish done. I chose to put the dill, peanuts and rice noodles into the oil-filled pan.
So how's the taste? Well, it tasted ok for me, though a bit oily. The rice noodles soaked up pretty much of the oil. I enjoyed scraping the fried spring onions off the pan and eating it.
The service may not be first-world standards, but seriously, what do you expect from a thriving family business? It may take some time before service standards are emphasised by Vietnamese businesses. (You can expect better service in the higher-end restaurants and in banks).
The portion may be a bit little, even by Asian standards. But seriously, if locals are prepared to pay the same prices as foreigners for the dish (at 120,000 VND per person, this is considered pricey by Vietnamese living standards), and it has been served by 5 generations over more than 200 years, it is definitely worth a try. At least, you can say you have tried a Hanoian dish.
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