Pacific Place Courtyard, 83 Ly Thuong Kiet, Hoan Kiem
Hanoians love to have inside knowledge. It rapidly becomes a badge of honour to boast about how well we know the city; which particular alley street stall serves the best pho at any given hour of the day, or where the best cup of coffee can be procured. Yet the boastful in-the-knows seem to have developed a blind spot when it comes to fine dining.
Yes, we revel in the heavy French cuisine fused artfully with Vietnamese creations while taking in the French-Colonial-perhaps-never-was style at La Verticale; or we spend an evening dining in Mr Son’s plethora of artisan-crafted surroundings in The Mandarin or Club d’Orientale, however few people really seem to have caught on to the surprisingly coy Halia, which must rank in the top tier of Hanoi dining experiences.
Ginger but Nice
The Singaporean-owned restaurant has been quietly garnering top reviews for its modern, clean, fresh flavours, subtle hints of musky oriental spices and good, old-fashioned skilled cooking for some time now.
While Halia translates as ginger in Malay, there are no clunking hunks of raw root bedecking the plates. The eponymous ginger theme may run throughout the menu, but subtlety is the watchword.
Tucked unobtrusively behind the looming bulk of the faux-French Pacific Place office complex, this ostensibly ‘business lunch’ split-floor brassiere in muted oranges, reds and gleaming wood and chrome is a foodie idyll. While ambience and staff attentiveness has long lagged behind flavour in my list of priorities as my time in Hanoi has lengthened, there is no doubt that Halia excels in delivering that rare treat of polite, discrete service that is neither aloof nor hanging over your shoulder.
Knowledgeable staff breezed through the menu. Since my last visit, I was informed, the fish soup had transmuted into ‘more of a bisque’, while the beef cheek came heartily recommended.
As an amuse-bouche we received a grilled oyster wrapped in bacon and served in a pool of garlic dressing to tantalise the taste buds while we waited for our starter and main courses.
In from the Cold
The night of our visit saw Hanoi gripped by icy winds, but even the chill couldn’t put us off the tempting satay shrimp salad (US$8), fresh golden pomelo, fragrant mint, glass noodles and zingy marinated shrimp and ginger flower buds, brought together by tart, spicy dressing.
With the wind whistling around the courtyard, I heartily accepted the invitation to try the braised beef cheek (US$24) - the combination of tender frayed-ribbon beef in rich gravy served with mushrooms and a warming dollop of sweet potato puree was exactly what was needed to keep the cold at bay. The only disappointment was the accompanying rocket pesto gnocchi, which although fresh, lacked a little punch.
My dining partner opted for the sea bass (US$17) with a slightly salted chorizo speckled crust, accompanied by saffron flavoured baby potatoes and a rare treat of lightly cooked fennel. However, despite my appreciation for the quality of the ingredients and delicacy of the cooking – fish done perfectly - I felt the dish fell just short of the ‘wow’ factor, with the chorizo over-powering the sea bass and proving too salty.
Treats that await another visit include Snow King Crab Cocktail, New Zealand Mussels or paper bag-wrapped Alaskan Black Cod, which I can attest as being another excellent choice.
While space didn’t allow for pudding, I can confirm that the desserts are a revelation, with the pandan creme brulee with coconut ice cream the standout choice.
If you haven’t tried Halia you should. Yes price is a factor, but when a restaurant makes such an effort to source fantastic ingredients, compose a balanced menu and provide exceptional service, it deserves a clientele to match. I only fear that in their secluded business ghetto of Pacific Place, that Halia may remain in the city’s culinary shadows, rather than taking its rightful place in the limelight.
The mystery diner who visited Halia is a seasoned journalist who has also been seasoned by the desire to both find and consume good cuisine.
33 To Ngoc Van, Tay Ho
When Daluva opened a year-and-a-half ago it caused quite a stir. Here was a swish new wine bar and tapas restaurant that promised to add a new dimension to life in West Lake. The fact that the name of the place, pronounced dah-loo-vah, sounded like a reinterpretation of the words ‘the lover’, escaped everyone’s attention. Here was a place for people to supposedly come and look beautiful. Even better, Hanoi was going upmarket.
But to go upmarket, customers have to be prepared to pay the price, and quality doesn’t come cheap. First there is rent. And then there is the investment involved in creating such an attractive space, let alone the daily running costs. Not surprisingly, many have taken umbrage at the idea of paying VND35,000 for a Tiger and over VND100,000 for a sandwich, baguette or tapas dish, and the service and portion size here has also come in for some stick.
So, we decided to find out for ourselves. Is Daluva offering value for money? And for those of us not building their nests on the shores of West Lake, is coming to it worth the trip out of town?
A Technical Hitch
Being a fan of coffee-cum-Wi-Fi joints, I decided to head out here late morning before moving onto lunch. The Wi-Fi wasn’t working. While my cafe latte was just about spot on – it should be, the distributor, Punto Italia is just round the corner - it took two attempts to get the matter rectified. And it wasn’t just down to the Hanoi network being out of sync.
Up and running and with emails despatched to the farther climes of Hanoi’s internet system, I decided to check out the food menu. As is typical of an international restobar of this ilk, the cuisine here is taken from all over the world. Tex-Mex sits next to French quiches, Quebec tourtiere, Spanish croquetas, pizza, beef stroganoff and even chicken parmigiana. Being a sucker for tapas, I went for three of the ‘small plate’ dishes. Having spied the woman next to me eating what looked like a classic, but generous portioned chicken Caesar salad, I felt confident that my options would come out well. Two did, one didn’t.
Not so Drunk
With the dishes arriving at the same time, I was happy to see my sour-cream topped patatas bravas (VND85,000) looking fairly large. Not the same as you’d get out of a real Spanish tapas joint – half-cut baby potatoes and cherry tomatoes made up the bulk of the dish – it was nonetheless a good choice. Simple fare done well. The Mexican sincro quesadilla (VND60,000 without meat) was also tasty. Served up with Tex-Mex sides like sour cream, guacamole and un-spicy tomato salsa, what can normally be quite a dry dish was surprisingly moist.
A big fan of Greek-style feta and olives, I also went for the drunken feta cheese (VND105,000). What came out was unexpected. Four chunks of feta on top of a bowl of black olives drenched in olive oil, with not even a hint of alcohol to make this dish seem even tipsy. The ingredients here don’t come cheap, but the dish was certainly not worth the price tag, and the menu description (or lack of, in this case) had been misleading.
All in the Details
Oh, and before I forget, the service. On the one hand, far better than most restaurants and bars in Hanoi – the staff took care to repeat my order and to ask before cleaning up my table. However, details were missed. The ashtray wasn’t changed, my serviette and side plate were cleared before having the chance to finish the black olives, and there was no “would you like a dessert?” or “would you like another drink?” follow up. Minutiae and unimportant, I know, but it would be nice to see.
From my visit, there was certainly enough value in Daluva, the atmosphere and its prices to draw me back, even from the bustle and traffic of downtown Hanoi. And for those of you have been here once or twice, never to return, give this place a try again. It may not be on the cheap side, but the guys behind this restobar are certainly doing their best to make it work.
The mystery diner who visited Daluva worked in the food and beverage industry overseas for more than nine years and is also a former bar and restaurant owner.