Little Hanoi a treat for foreign palates
There is more than one Little Hanoi in the Old Quarter, but as Karen Merlin finds out, the one on Hang Gai has a flavour all its own. From coffee to sandwiches to dessert, Little Hanoi is a small taste of home.
Little Hanoi Drinks & Food is a diamond in the rough. A paradise for the palates of foreigners, this medium sized cafe serves up some tasty meals, bringing a reminiscent familiarity back to the average expat or tourist looking for a little taste of home.
From the outside, this cafe appears similar to most others in the popular Hoan Kiem Lake area, with a small open counter to the street in front serving up coffee, pastries and the like to passers-by lured over by the fragrant aroma of freshly brewed coffee. But for those who venture inside, a more rewarding treat is sure to be dished out.
Once inside the cafe, one will first notice the simple (yet comfortable) decor, with bamboo and wood accents throughout. To the left of the room is the drinks bar, and a smaller room with more wooden tables. There is seating for about 30 people, and the room tonight is at about half capacity.
Upon opening the menu, you will find many choices for drinks, whether you are thirsting for alcoholic or non, you will have no problem finding your quench here. The list is quite broad for a cafe of this size, and includes some high-end drinks such as martinis, brandy, champagne, and wine. You will also find the usual mix of cocktails, liqueurs, spirits, whiskey and beer. If you are looking for a non-alcoholic experience, you can take your pick from an array of fresh fruit juices, mocktails, soft drinks, tea or choose one of the many brews of coffee available on the menu.
I decided on a Pina Colada (VND40,000), while my companions went with Whiskey Sours (VND43,000). The Pina Colada was merely pineapple juice and vodka, a potent and odd variation from the frozen variety made with coconut that I am so familiar with; however, the tasty Whiskey Sours more than made up for it.
For our appetisers, we ordered the French Onion Soup with Cheese Bread (VND44,000), and the “Pho” Beef Noodle Soup (VND38,000). The French Onion Soup was delicious, packed with tender onion slices, garlic bread wedges, and topped with a thick layer of stringy mozzarella. The “Pho” Beef Noodle Soup was also pleasing, full of lean cuts of beef and the staple cilantro seasoning.
After perusing the menu a bit more, we found various western and Vietnamese offerings, including an extensive and exotic sandwich list, quiches, salads, shrimp cakes, spring rolls and the like. There was even a worldly breakfast menu, including Continental, French, and American – right down to the Cornflakes and milk.
As soon as the appetisers cleared the table, out came our entrees in a timely fashion. I have to say I appreciate proper timing in the course of a meal. Bringing out all of the dishes at once is not as pleasurable as taking the time to actually enjoy each dish one at a time, as was the case tonight.
My selection for the main course was the Bacon Avocado Baguette (VND46,000) with fries. The sandwich itself was an unusual but appealing combination, and was the reason why I had chosen it. It presented crisp bacon, fresh avocado, tomato, lettuce and garlic, in a warm, straight-from-the-oven baguette. My companions chose the Beef Burger and fries (VND44,000), and the Spaghetti Al Pomodoro Basillico (VND46,000). The burger was a sure bet, a well cooked beef patty with all of the trimmings. However, it was the spaghetti that was the gem of the meal, with its fresh pasta, tomato sauce, fresh basil, peppercorns, olive oil and garlic seasoning, with a small bowl of freshly grated parmesan cheese to sprinkle over top. This truly is the best plate of pasta I have tasted in the short time I have spent in Viet Nam.
As for dessert, we went with the Blueberry Cheesecake (VND26,000), and Warm Apple Tart with Vanilla Ice-cream (VND26,000). The cheesecake was marvellous, and the apple tart delightful. We finished the meal off with a cup of Regular Coffee (VND14,000) and Vietnamese Drip Coffee (VND14,000), which were both also very good.
This cafe, although not audibly pleasing with its lack of music and location on a loud and busy street, is indeed a great place to take some time out for some tasty grub and is perfect for people watching through one of its large windows. Although we did find it to be a bit on the expensive side, we will be sure to visit this Little Hanoi cafe again, if only just to please our fussy North American palates. — VNS