One of the first restaurants in Tay Ho, according to Word, Don's is still one of the best. Words by Bennett Murray. Photos by Julie Vola
Summertime in Hanoi has brought generous set lunches and brunches to Don’s, where diners are invited to overdose on a menu featuring the best of the globetrotting namesake’s eclectic menu.
Don Berger, originally from Montreal, worked in kitchens from Shanghai to Monte Carlo before moving to Vietnam 17 years ago. Like a seasoned traveller with a living room decorated with oddities, Berger’s menu items are inspired from each locale that at one time or another he has called home.
“There’s a lot of different things on offer here, and you can come here and spend a lot of money if you order a really nice bottle of wine and truffles… but you can be out of here for about US$10 a head,” says Don.
A Global Affair
The summer luncheon includes 16 mains ranging from BBQ sea bass and salmon salad to the beef taco grande.
Of particular noteworthiness are the Hawaiian fried chicken sliders, which were inspired by a stint in the American state.
Each slider is cooked with a savoury Korean BBQ sauce, giving an elegant twist to a dish perhaps more associated with Harold and Kumar. While the buns are small, each slider packs more chicken than meets the eye.
The lunch specials, which include a free drink and dessert, are VND289,000.
Weekends feature a two-course brunch special served from 11am to 5pm. Options, which comprise 24 combinations, include the smoked salmon bagel in the Montreal style.
“Montreal is mad about bagels, it’s really a passion,” says Don. “And there are two very famous bagel factories with wood burning ovens. Ours are exactly the same because I’ve worked on perfecting it.”
The Canadian lobster, crab and avocado salad is also a winner. With live lobsters imported from the Nova Scotian coast, the cold water shellfish is far superior to its tropical counterpart.
For real seafood aficionados, combine your lobster with a first course of oysters — you have a choice between three baked oysters with goat’s cheese, sundried tomatoes, spinach and bacon or the trio of one live, one fried and one baked.
The brunch, which also includes a free drink and dessert, is VND349,000.
Making the Grade
Restaurants that try to do everything usually fall short. Chefs who try to balance menu items from across the cuisines often find themselves spread too thin, with ingredients being subpar and staff unable to cope with the variety.
But with a kitchen staff of 35, state-of-the-art gear and decades of experience, Don’s doesn’t have that problem.
“I like to eat, and not all the same things all the time,” says Don. “And it’s reflective of what I’ve learnt and what I know how to do.”