The colonial mansion that houses the restaurant is still owned by the Italian embassy, and doubles up as the Italian Country Promotion Centre and a Vespa museum, meaning that you won’t necessarily find the romantic décor of other downtown dining options, but it’s evident that the emphasis here is on the food, not the wallpaper.
The Italian ambassador frequently chooses the spot for his lunch, as do a number of other Italians working in Hanoi, so you can rest assured that you’re being served authentic fare.
The restaurant’s owner, Giulia De Piaggi, is the sister of Paulo from Hanoi’s Da Paulo and restaurant, and her kitchen staff have worked with the family for the last decade.
Authentic Italian Fare
Two things will strike you when you scan the menu; first, its simplicity, with just four pasta options, eight pizzas, and a handful of appetisers, salads and desserts. It’s laid out on a single leather-bound board, and is refreshingly easy to read. Second are the reasonable prices, the most expensive dish on the menu costing VND250,000.
At a table in a room decorated with pictures of Italian cultural heritage and Vespa motorbikes from different eras, we wait for our starter to arrive — focaccia (VND60,000), a freshly baked pizza-style bread topped with olive oil and rosemary. The taste of rosemary stands out before melting in with the flavour of the hot bread.
The next leg of our meal, the antipasto (VND250,000) is a collection of premium Italian cold cuts and cheeses, accompanied by tomatoes and fresh basil. The cold cuts are sublime, and the mix of mozzarella and homemade cheese along with fresh tomatoes and coated in pepper and olive oil goes down a treat.
Out of the pizza selection comes the calzone pizza with ham and mushroom (VND140,000). Originating in Naples, and literally translating to ‘trousers’, the calzone is a pizza folded and sealed together to make a giant pie. Once opened, the steaming pizza melts in the mouth.
Eyes on the Specials
Complementing the menu is the weekly rotating specials board, with around a dozen options to choose from. This is where the dishes become more acquired tastes, with options such as asparagus soup (VND150,000), brie and pancetta pizza (VND250,000) and a 200g tenderloin (VND350,000).
Our next dish is the off the specials menu; salad with avocado and goat’s cheese wrapped in speck, (similar to prosciutto) for VND220,000. The portion is generous and consists of a bed of salad topped with olive oil and vinegar, with crumbled goat’s cheese hidden under every leaf, and the soft avocado and goat’s cheese wrapped in smoked speck. The flavour from the cheese brings the whole salad to life, and is very satisfying.
Two more dishes from the specials board arrive midway through the salad, hand-made ravioli with smoked speck and smoked ricotta, on a bed of rocket (VND250,000) and linguini with fresh tomatoes, black olives and a topping of burrata cheese (VND260,000). Both dishes exhibit strong flavours balanced with the accompanying ingredients to form a delicate finish.
The dessert menu keeps to the theme of simplicity with five options including crème bruleé (VND90,000), panna cotta (VND80,000) and tiramisu (VND80,000). The restaurant’s extensive coffee selection is a good companion to the end of your meal, with an espresso starting at VND45,000, and an affogato coming in at VND80,000.
Casa Italia’s central location makes it suitable for lunch or dinner. With the French Quarter lit up outside, it’s a good bet for a romantic date also. Bear in mind that closing time is 9pm.
Casa Italia is located at 18 Le Phung Hieu, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi and is open daily from 9am to 9pm.
Photos by Teigue John Blokpoel