Hidden in the mess of alleyways behind Elegant Suites in West Lake, you can reach La Bicicleta by turning off of Quang An at the suggestion of an unassuming sign, or you can get there by turning left, then left and the going straight down alley 31 from Xuan Dieu. You can approach it a myriad of other ways, too, but I’ll spare you the confusion. The point is this: La Bicicleta can be hard to find.
Restaurateur Guim Valls Teruel cites the restaurant’s location as both a challenge and a strength. People don’t necessarily seek it out, he tells me, so much as they stumble upon it. Once you stumble upon it, though, I reckon you’ll want to seek it out for future visits.
You can approach the food options here in any number of ways. Go on a date and test your relationship’s strength by trying to choose just a few items from the bistro’s multi-paged menu. Treat yourself on a weekday with the generous set lunch, sweetly priced at just VND95,000. Bring a group so you can explore the tapas menu without abandon. Leave your destiny in the kitchen’s hands and splurge on the tasting menu (VND295,000 per person).
I sat down with Guim on a recent weekday to sample La Bicicleta’s set lunch and some of their other menu highlights. It’s a rough life. Here were my impressions:
The penne in the set lunch’s starring pasta dish is appropriately al dente and the textural variety — from the creamy avocado to the juicy tomatoes to the crunch of fresh herbs — is just about perfect. While I think it could use a bit more salt, I find this pasta salad overall refreshing and keep sneaking more bites.
To the pasta’s left sits a thick slab of multigrain bread topped with sautéed mushrooms in a creamy garlic sauce and sprinkled with greens. Although difficult to eat gracefully, what with those pesky mushrooms sliding around, the sauce getting all over my hands and the herbs sticking to my hungry lips, the toast is worth the struggle.
The croquetas’ buttery insides and crispy outsides are truly indulgent, from the explosion of juicy roast meat to the béchamel that gloriously seeps from the jambon pillow of perfection.
Next up is a sizzling plate of garlic prawns. Perfectly seasoned with the ideal blend of spice and salt, the prawns swim in a thin red sauce flecked with crispy slices of garlic. I lap up the sauce, oil and garlic with a fresh baguette that’s just been brought to the table. The fried calamari rings are equally addictive, with a crispy coat that stays impressively intact as I bite into the tender core.
Guim insists that I return the next day for paella. Twist my arm, I tell him. Proper paella takes nearly an hour to make, so Guim advises guests to order it in advance. And after my experience tasting it, I just advise you to order it, period. With each forkful of this heaping pile of rice, I discover a new layer of flavour, from the briny notes that ring in with each sliver of seafood to the paprika’s subtle smokiness.
This is the kind of place that Spaniards and non-Spaniards alike will return to time and again. The food is bursting with flavour, from the garlic that delightfully pervades each dish to the crisp bitterness of the kitchen’s homegrown herbs atop grains and proteins alike.
Trial and Error
La Bicicleta embraces its Hanoian setting. After a series of trial runs, Chef Jordi Llagosteria figured out which Vietnamese breed of rice works best in a paella, and found the perfect local potato to achieve the desired crunchy-creamy sensation for the patatas bravas. He’s also taken full advantage of the freshness of ingredients afforded by Hanoi’s fruit and vegetable markets.
In other ways, the menu at La Bicicleta is authentically Spanish, from its adherence to the tradition of paella despite customer confusion (“It’s not supposed to be yellow!”) to its devotion to Spanish drinking customs (every drink comes with a complimentary snack).
I’m no Spaniard, but dining at La Bicicleta makes me feel like I’m one step closer. — Noey Neumark
La Bicicleta is at 44 Ngo 31 Xuan Dieu, Tay Ho, Hanoi or online at facebook.com/labicicletahanoi