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Hanoi Hilton

or Hilton Hanoi

View Asia 2008 on Wardsan's travel map.

I lunched at the Hanoi Hilton yesterday. Not the infamous Hanoi Hilton, obviously – more of that later – but at the Hilton Hanoi next to the Opera House. For obvious reasons it does not call itself the Hanoi Hilton. In fact I only went in to escape the attentions of a persistent taxi driver. Half the restaurant is outdoors on a terrace – out of the question in a baking 38 degrees – and half inside, under a glass ceiling but air-conditioned.

It was perhaps the best meal I have had in Hanoi, and the best part was the starters. A mix of fresh spring rolls, with pork, shrimp, green banana, pineapple and rice vermicelli; fried spring rolls, with crab, carrot and mushroom; and a salad with crabmeat, onions, chilli and peanuts. All fresh, subtle, and harmonious. Glorious.

This was followed by farmed crocodile with young galangal and shallots. This merely out of curiosity, of course. I expected to eat interesting things all over southeast Asia, but apart from the bamboo worms (actually caterpillars) and the sparrows, and the hundred-year-old eggs, I suppose, nothing has cropped up.

The crocodile was listed in the fish and seafood section of the menu. The same judgement has been made by the Catholic church, which adopted its own taxonomy to define the categories of flesh comestible during Lent and at other penitential times. Thus turtles and alligators have been classified as “fish”. The distinction is made, according to theory, on the basis of the temperature of their blood; the element in which they live or oviposit (if that isn't a word, why not?); or a distinction between pesce and carne in Latin languages. Or all of the above.

The flesh was completely white, and very soft, but also rubbery, so the meat was difficult to cut. It tasted of galangal. So that’s that – not worth bothering with again.

Dessert was a medley of cubes and mousses that sounded more exciting than they tasted. Coffee mousse, lemongrass ice cream, green bean and strawberry bavarois, Dalat red wine jelly, that sort of thing.

A blow-out beyond my normal budget on this trip, but great value for $42.

The other Hanoi blow-out was at Bobby Chinn’s. The owner-chef is Chinese-Egyptian and went on a rugby scholarship to Millfield School in England. He is a former banker, stand-up comedian etc and is, I imagine, someone who would describe himself as ‘larger-than-life’, a ‘bon viveur’ etc. The catering business is full of such extroverts.

Anyway, the menu is full of self-indulgent but largely amusing comments. The wine list enumerates the stages of drunkenness:

1. Witty and charming
2. Rich and powerful
3. Benevolent
4. Clairvoyant
5. Forget dinner
6. Patriotic
7. Kenny G is a genius
8. Witty and charming, part II
9. Invisible
10. Bulletproof.

There I also learnt a new cocktail. Karber’s Frenzy: Bombay Sapphire, tonic, codeine, lime. I like the sound of it.

The location is great: south side of Hoàn Kiếm lake. White tablecloths sprinkled with rose petals; a pumpkin soup amuse-bouche; huge wine glasses; great service. Warm seafood salad (excellent), lemon-scented poussin (over-nutmegged), whisky sour and glass of red wine, $49.

I did actually intend to write about the prison at Hoa Lo – another time perhaps.

Posted by Wardsan 19:23 Archived in Vietnam

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