The Al Brown of Hanoi is Chef Didier Corlou, who has spread his culinary empire to include 4 restaurants covering the cuisine spectrum from French, Vietnamese and fusion. During my time in Hanoi, I managed to make my way to two of them, Madame Hien (traditional Vietnamese food, named after Didier’s Vietnamese wife, Mai’s grandmother) and Port d’Annam (a slightly more casual counterpart to Madame Hien).
I felt somewhat guilty dragging Di all over Vietnam looking for eats, so as a compromise, I ensured that dear old dad got somewhere decent to rest his weary feet.
Madame Hien is housed in a beautiful old French colonial villa, recessed off the busy Chan Cam Street. It offers different dining options; casual courtside, semi-formal or private room. Following the French tradition, there are prix fixe menus for lunch. Madame Hien offers up several menus to choose from; a great value Hanoi Family lunch tray (VND$147,000+VAT = NZD$9.50), the traditional Madame Hien menu (VND$397,000+ = NZD$25.70), 36 Streets (named after the 36 streets which make up central Hanoi, VND$535,000+ = NZD34.60), and two fusion fine-dining set menus.
I had the mango smoothie (VND48,000) and Di chose the mango juice (VND43,000). These were superb, the mango used is a highly fragrant kuini variety. They provided nibbles while we waited for our lunch, – a lemongrass-limey drink, roasted peanuts and prawn crackers.
We chose from the Hanoi Family lunch tray, which gives options for a starter and two mains, along with a soup, vegetables and a dessert. Exceptional value. The set came on a beautiful copper tray. I chose a starter of banana flower salad with chicken and salad, and 5-spice caramelised prawns and braised fish for my mains. The banana flower salad was as I hoped, slightly sweet, fresh, with a lingering astringency from the dressing. The prawns were tender, but could be fresher. The braised fish was too dry and crumbly, a disappointment. Even the vegetables were limp, with canned sweetcorn used instead of fresh. The refreshing soup was made with local spinach.
Di chose the crab soup with rice vermicelli, and the braised pork and caramelised prawns. The soup was tasty, but if we didn’t know it was cooked with crabs, we would have never guessed. The taste was too subtle. The pork was also dry and over-seasoned.
The simple yet delicious dessert of green tea ice-cream and fresh fruit hit the spot. Overall, the meal was disappointing, as it was clear the mains were reheated, and not in a good way. We visited in the low tourist season, which meant the restaurant was almost empty. I would come back to Madame Hien, but would only order from the a la carte menu in the future.
I decided to give Chef Corlou another go, and on our last evening in Hanoi, we traipsed to Port d’Annam, his latest venture, just a couple of blocks from Madame Hien.
The complementary bread was delicious, as were the amuse bouche of cucumber sticks and spice dukkah. I requested a virgin mojito, and well, let’s just say mocktails are not their best suite.
We had ‘The Exotic’ (VND125,000) for a starter, which was a pineapple salad, with avocado, tomatoes in a lemon dressing. The salad is presented in carved out 2 pineapple halves and is plenty for 2 people. This had the Vietnamese flavours I have come to adore, sweet, sour, some saltiness and a slight hint of chilli.
Our shared mains were the satay collection in Hue style (VND125,000), the prawns with tomatoes (VND185,000) and eggplant braised in soya sauce (VND60,000). I was not enamoured with the satay, the meats tasted slightly off and I wondered about the freshness, and were too chewy. Di found a rotten part in his piece of eggplant and was very disappointed, given that this is a formal restaurant. But overall, the prawn and eggplant were excellent.
Di refused a dessert, so I tackled the mango in floating island (VND70,000) mostly by myself. I am a fiend for mangoes, and this was the star. There was a dollop of green rice ice-cream sitting at the bottom of the bowl, covered with meringue in a sea of fragrant mango puree and topped with toasted puffed rice. Heaven.
The hype around Chef Corlou’s restaurants seemed inflated. Most of the dishes are good, but some need more attention to consistency and quality.
15 Chan Cam, Hanoi, Vietnam
+84 4 3938 1588
Opening hours: 7 days 10:30am – 11pm
22 Nha Tho, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi, Vietnam
+84 4 3938 2688
Opening hours: 7 days 11am – 11pm