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Hanoi by the Glass

By: Darren Gall Posted: January-24-2015 in
Don's Bistro
Darren Gall

“In a city one thousand years old, everyone is a visitor.”

I have been ‘dropping’ in to Hanoi for over a dozen years, for the past 9 months I have found myself a resident.

Hanoi has always intrigued me, drawn me, a visually beautiful city with a certain charm and character, it smiles at you through the cracks and exhibits style and elegance even amidst occasional chaos and degradation.

Hanoi is also a city being transformed, being modernized and in certain quarters, taking on the signs of wealth and progress that are universal to cities around the world today, some signs good and some signs bad.

Yet, everywhere there is beauty in Hanoi, in the simplest scenes and in almost all of the unexpected places; all you have to do is pause to look and see for yourself.

Art and Culture are not something Hanoians have to necessarily work at to emanate, it seems to me, that it is a part of their very being, it sits happily aside them as part of their existence, an extra gene in their dna, an artisan gene that the rest of us seem to be lacking. Proud people they might be but, it has been my experience to learn that from great devotion, great beauty is created.

It is for reasons like this that I find Hanoi an eminently attractive city to wander, to lose oneself in, and to absorb through my pores the artistic ‘being’ and beauty that is all around me in Hanoi.

One of the joys of the city is its gastronomy, an epicurean at heart, it is part of my nature to navigate my way around a new city by those places in which I can enjoy exceptional hospitality, good food and of course fine wine. Having been a traveler for almost twenty years and a person of the wine trade for a quarter of a century; I find it important to know the distance between my present location and where I can enjoy my next glass of fine wine. Fortunately, in Hanoi that never seems to be too far away.

I have been asked to put together a list of my favourite places to enjoy wine in Hanoi: as a published writer I cannot resist the opportunity to further challenge my ability and to further polish my craft. However, lists are tricky, lists force you to make choices, lists ask you to pick one over another, and lists can be seen to have agendas. So, I will ask you to take me at face value, I come at you with none of the aforementioned criteria and merely wish to share with you my current list of favourites as a new resident of Hanoi. If as a proprietor you do not find yourself here, do not be offended and take heart, it is perhaps because I have not found you or, perhaps we need to spend a little more time together and I know that I hope we do.

So, for me, this list is a chance to express and convey my passions to you in my writing, for you the reader, I hope it is a window into a Hanoi you may have not yet discovered and perhaps would like to, better, let me try to inspire you to fall in love with the small beauties and artisan episodes that are life in Hanoi.

Don’s Bistro
No 16 Quang An ,Tây Hồ , Hanoi, Vietnam
I have known Donald Berger for almost fifteen years as best as I can recall, we have been working with each other in food and wine for all of that time, in one form or another. Donald’s hospitality is legendary as is his passion for food, wine and people. I know colleagues from the four corners of the earth who will pause and get nostalgic remembering an evening at Don’s. I love Don’s cuisine, his staff, his wine list and the fact that I can drop in at any time and know that Don will see I am well taken care of. More often than not, we will talk about food and wine and people and ideas for hours at a time, the food and the wine will flow and will always be exceptional, others will drop by, the most interesting and eclectic mix of people, fellow chefs, ambassadors, magnates and artists, everyone comes together at Dons.

La Badiane
10 Nam Ngư, Hoan Kiem District, Hà Nội, Vietnam
La Badiane is an excellent French restaurant with an ambitious endeavor to examine local and regional ingredients then incorporate them into dishes using classical French cooking and technique. Many have gone before on this ambitious path and failed, for a time fusion meant the worst of both worlds but, in the capable hands of chef Benjamin Rascalou and his team, the dishes here are inspired, elevated and incredible. I find I am always excited to come here and to explore the magnificent possibilities for pairing Benjamin’s creative cuisine and fine wine.

French Grill
JW Marriott Hotel, Mễ Trì, Từ Liêm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
A relative newcomer to Hanoi, this modern, stylish and spacious eating place has a magnificent vista that is one of the largest open kitchens I have ever seen. From the very first meal here I was impressed and inspired by a team who are willing and confidant to push the culinary envelope, chefs who not only have the expertise but, who also possess the understanding and experience to pull it off, brilliantly. For a wine lover, all this creates magical possibilities to pair wine and dishes and enjoy an elevated dining experience of gastronomic bliss.

Tim Ho Wan
Floor 36, Lotte Hotel, 54 Lieu Giai, Ba Dinh, Hanoi, Vietnam
This gem is fast becoming my wicked pleasure; I have always loved dim sum so, the chance to enjoy Michelin star quality dim sum at 36 floors up, overlooking this magnificent city and then washing it down with ripe, flavourful, fruit driven wines is simply heaven over Hanoi.

A la Folie
63 Ngõ Huế, Hai Bà Trưng.
Occasionally, what I am looking for is an understated ambience and honest food made with exceptionally fresh and high quality ingredients -simply prepared and done with a great deal of competence and plenty of love in the kitchen. I get this every time at A la Folie. The big shared table in the front room has a relaxed, comfortable feel to it and it is a place to kick back and enjoy a favourite bottle, a hearty laugh and the companionship of treasured friends.

Cau Go
5th & 6th floors, No’s 1 thru 7, Dinh Tien Hoang Street, Hoan Kiem District.
When I want to be at one with my fellow Hanoians and enjoy some local cuisine, I can think of no better place to do it than at Cau Go overlooking the Old Quarter and Hoan Kiem Lake. The food is very traditional and high quality, the ambiance conjures old Hanoi and the exploration of traditional Northern Vietnamese cuisine with fine wine is a journey of discovery that I will never tire of taking.

El Gaucho
No. 99 Xuan Dieu St., Quang An Ward, West Lake District.
No. 11 Trang Tien Street, Trang Tien Ward, Hoan Kiem District.
The look and feel of this wonderful meat palace just screams ‘carnivores welcome’, I love it and when I want to slay a beast and pair it with a monster wine, it is the very best, purpose built space in town. There are two outlets in Hanoi and I enjoy them both equally, Trang Tien for its Ambiance and Xuan Dieu for its intimacy and for the pleasure of being served by the lovely Olivia, the dark queen of caramel vodka shots.
The team here is great; the quality of the meat is very, very good and the ambience and format exceptional, not for the faint of heart or Sauvignon Blanc drinkers.

Green Tangerine
48 Hang Be Street, Hoan Kiem District.
I love to take visiting friends here for the old quarter ambience, the fusion of French and Vietnamese ingredients and for the inimitable hospitality of the best restaurant manager in Hanoi, Mr. Vincent Pirot. Monsieur Pirot is the consummate host, always managing to make sure his guests feel more than welcome, he makes them feel positively special. He has an intimate knowledge of the dishes, ingredients and techniques in his kitchen and a very high level of knowledge and expertise on his hand-picked wine list. His paring recommendations rarely disappoint and his charm and wit ensure that guests will be talking about the place for days to come and telling their friends back home all about it.

Hanoi Gourmet
6 Hàm Long, Phan Chu Trinh, Hoàn Kiếm.
This is one of my very favourite places in all Vietnam, I love it for its intimacy, its friendliness, its charm and I’ll be damned for saying it but, I love its overt, Vietnamese take on French-ness. Go here for Charcuterie, a superb selection of cheeses, cured and smoked salmon or meats, Foie Gras, Rillettes, etc. This is wine food and the very place to take or locate that special bottle to share and enjoy with someone who will appreciate it.

3 Quang Ba, Tay Ho.
Family is family, family is special, families stick together and share bonds that should never be broken and to go to Cousins is to experience some of that warmth and love that comes from family. A little white house in a quiet corner on the West Lake with a little courtyard and smiling, beautiful staff, a simple, very good quality menu and an innate understanding of the little things that mean a lot towards making people happy. I always enjoy getting here for a glass of wine and a chat with the Cousins, it feels like coming home.

Moose & Roo
42 Mã Mây, Hàng Buồm, Hoàn Kiếm.
A pub in the old quarter, Moose & Roo has exceptional pub grub, very high quality, absolutely delicious, comfort food. The best choices are often on the ever changing specials board. I love dropping in for lunch here just to see what’s on the board. They also have the best spicy chicken wings in town and do a delicious Scotch egg, hard to find and an old favourite. The other great reason to head for the Moose & Roo is the biggest selection of single malt whiskies and single cask bourbons in town.

The Republic
7A Quang An Street, Tay Ho.
A new Pub with a delightful 1st floor terrace on Quang An Street that hovers over the West Lake like an open invitation to chill out and enjoy yourself. Quang An Street, on the West Lake, is now a major wine & dine strip in this city and worth a tour. The Republic manages to combine sports bar, gastro pub and friendly watering hole very well and a Sunday on the terrace, embracing the impressive wine by the glass list and communing with friends and neighbors is a perfect antidote to a busy week.

So there you have it, not the definitive, surely not the best and to be honest, not even the complete list of Darren Gall’s best places to have a glass of wine in Hanoi but, it will have to do as I’ve inspired myself to end it here and dash off for a glass of vino. Always remember, the best glass of wine you will ever have in your life might just be the next one so, never stop searching and never stop drinking.

The Wine Traveler Darren Gall lives and breathes within the wine industry in Cambodia and Vietnam. Darren is a regular contributor on Urban Flavours


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