Bobby Chinn is one of the most celebrated chef’s in Asia. If you watch the Travel & Living channel, there is no doubt you have seen his show Bobby Chinn Cooks Asia. Beyond that, he is regularly featured in newspaper and magazine articles, recent Sony handycam commercials and has his own cookbook, Wild, Wild East: Recipes and Stories from Vietnam. We wondered if after all the media exposure, if his restaurant could really live up to all the hype.
When we were in Hanoi recently, we decided to give it a go. Paul made a booking for us and 2 other friends on a Saturday night. Interestingly enough, when arrived to their new location (they have recently moved), we noticed the restaurant was startlingly empty… and actually remained this way when we left some 3 hours later. Never a good sign for a restaurant…
But in the spirit of keeping an open mind, we sat down and perused the menu. Much like Bobby on his TV show, the menu is packed full of personality. Lots of witty aphorisms and quips entertain the diner. And even found on the menu is a most usual item. For $5.78 USD, you can order a side dish of the staff complimenting you – “we tell you, you are beautiful all night long…includes a signed copy of the menu.” OK, so he’s funny, but how’s the food?
I ordered the Vietnamese 6 course tasting menu (800,000 VND / $44 USD) which included:
- An amuse bouche of chicken satay
- Black bean soup
- Duck Confit (Pho Cuon)
- Beef La Lot (chargrilled beef wrapped in La Lot leaves)
- Smoked Pork Belly in caramel sauce, braised cabbage and lotus rice
- Ice cream
The real standouts in my tasting menu were the grilled beef wrapped in La Lot Leaves and the Smoked Pork Belly. The beef was tender and juicy, seasoned perfectly with local spices. I would definitely order this again. The pork belly in caramel sauce was rich (of course), served in a bubbling casserole dish straight from the oven. I will admit I have had pork belly I have enjoyed more (like that at the St Regis Singapore dim sum brunch). And the rice was rather sticky and somehow not so fresh. Everything else on my tasting menu was competent, but not the wow I was expecting from a chef held in such high regard.
Paul got the Western Tasting Menu of 6 courses (800,000 VND / $44 USD) which included:
- An amuse bouche…also chicken satay
- Pumpkin soup
- Mushroom risotto
- Seared day boat scallops with braised edamame and truffle pea jus
- Five spices rack of lamb with apple risotto and red wine, lamb jus reduction
- Dessert sampler
Paul thought the mushroom risotto was really well done, creamy and earthy, overall a perfectly cooked risotto. However the rest of his dishes were also just so-so. Nothing was bad, but also nothing terribly standout. And in general he felt, and I agree, it was a rather unimaginative tasting menu. (And why the 2 risottos? One as a course and one as a side dish?) Usually this is where chefs have the opportunity to strut their stuff and this was a predictable list of dishes that didn’t highlight the culinary aptitude of the kitchen.
Monica and Lyan, our dining companions, ordered a la carte. They chose a crab trio ($15 USD) of crab salad, truffle crab espresso and glazed crab cake. This was another standout dish. We all sampled the various crab dishes and agreed this showed creativity and culinary finesse. Whereas the blackened barramundi on braised banana blossoms ($16 USD), much like our tasting menu was just good, but not great.
It’s kind of a shame really, we all wanted to love Bobby Chinn’s in Hanoi, but somehow we just couldn’t fully embrace it. The décor is stunning and dramatic…the service was good…but the food simply wasn’t at the caliber one would expect from a chef who is so lauded. Beyond that, it also felt a bit commercialized…as an example, we were offered his book to buy for $25 USD no fewer than 3 times. And this did annoy me a bit…although as I skimmed the book I did find amusement in noting that the Vietnamese government had censored out all references to the Vietnam War. (And I should mention that Paul found the book the very next week in Singapore for a fraction of the price – $9 SGD or $6 USD).
Overall, we would say Bobby Chinn’s in Hanoi is not a must do for dining. However, we would recommend a street Bahn My sandwich any day. But the dramatic and romantic environment does lend itself for a nice night of cocktails and shisha, but skip the food (if you’re on a shorter visit… probably something great for local expats to have on reserve)… or at least order the crab trio or beef la lot to be safe.
77 Xuan Dieu Street
Tau Ho District
Telephone: +84 4 3719 2460