The old-world-meets-new-Asia chic of Hanoi makes it a place of interesting contrasts – French colonial architecture, Buddhist temples, the intimidating swarm of motorbikes often bearing entire families, a local coffee culture unrivalled in Asia – all make for a lively atmosphere, the perfect backdrop for its equally dynamic culinary scene. Designer restaurants sit in simple neighbourhoods within narrow alleyways, and small though as the city is, there are numerous innovative chefs on the scene.
Local French chef Didier Corlou, who is also former executive chef of the iconic Sofitel Metropole Hanoi Hotel – the must-stay hotel while in Hanoi – has several establishments in the city, but Madame Hien (15 Chan Cam, Hoan Kiem) is by far our favourite. Situated in a charming, yellow colonial villa with a terrace that’s ideal for cooler summer days and nights, the beautiful ambience is complemented by a wide menu showcasing different regional specialities. The cuisine is distinguished by its upscale take on Vietnamese home cooking, with a few more creative touches thrown in – ingredients are top quality and the presentation so delightful you’ll spend a few moments admiring your food before digging in.
Alternatively, Restaurant Bobby Chin (77 Xuan Dieu, Tay Ho), the eponymous restaurant of the celebrity chef with his own show on the Discovery Channel, is a sultry restaurant and lounge ideal not only for cocktails and for sampling his inventive global cuisine. Within the silk-lined dining rooms, order international tapas, Vietnamese comfort food and more creative takes such as the filet mignon spring rolls. Pair it with wines from a Wine Spectator-awarded list. Customised tastings meus are available with 24 hours notice.
Go to Quan An Ngon (18 Phan Boi Chau, Hoan Kiem) for the famed Viet street food experience – without the street. This is a busy, local haunt favoured by locals and expats alike. A large outdoor area reminiscent of an al fresco food court is surrounded by small “mini-kitchens”, where everything from the uber-extensive menu is cooked to order.
Excellent local specialties like squid with lemongrass and chilli round out the experience. Arrive early or risk waiting for a table. Also visit Hai San Ngon at 199A Nghi Tam, West Lake, its seafood counterpart. Another option is La Badiane (10 Nam Ngu, Hoan Kiem), where there is Asian-inspired French cuisine is served up in a charming white colonial villa. Grilled Australian beef tenderloin; mashed green peas and beans; red wine amd tamarind sauce; “noisette” potatoes; Peking duck leg; stewed pumpkins and onions in galangal spice are examples of how chef Benjamin Rascalou uses simple ingredients and combines them in new and innovative combinations.
Get a taste of haute Vietnamese cuisine at Club de L’Orientale (22 Tong Dan, Hoan Kiem), one of Hanoi’s poshest dining destinations. The colonial décor is elegantly chic, and we recommend sitting by the open kitchen for the full experience. Contemporary and traditional Vietnamese dishes pepper the extensive menu, but don’t forget to order the grilled duck with the tamarind sauce and fresh spring rolls. Another good option is Mandarine, the sister restaurant of Club De L’Orientale.
For more tips on fine dining in Hanoi, visit Asia Tatler Dining