Review:

So, we went to Hanoi for a quick getaway with some guests last weekend. Apart from the irritation of having to fly out of the ridiculous Gate 500 hub in the middle of what feels like Hong Kong Airport’s runway, the Dragonair flights leaving at 18:00 on a Friday and returning at 19:50 on Sunday were perfectly timed.

We arrived at our hotel in Hoan Kiem just after 20:00; well in time for dinner and a night out. We therefore were able to fit in two dinners and two lunches before jumping back on the plane to Hong Kong on Sunday evening.

Hanoi

Here were our meals:

The Spices Garden, Sofitel Metropole

Rapacious prices, mediocre food, dreadful service.

I don’t understand how the best and most expensive hotel in Hanoi is happy to run a restaurant this dismal.

I usually get my restaurant advice from the boards on Chowhound, but there is precious little on the Vietnamese capital, so I relied on a website called Rusty Compass that described the joint as “for those wanting to gently ease into local cuisine off the street in a 5 star space…a very nice upscale Vietnamese cuisine experience.”

Sounded perfect for our guests who weren’t yet comfortable to sit on plastic stools on a pavement to eat food delivered from a hole in the wall, or a bunsen burner in the gutter. How wrong that decision turned out to be.

Beef was tough as boots, everything that was fried was oily, the waiter kept jabbing his fingers into the food to tell us what to dip into what, and completely failed  to mention that many of the items in the traditional platter were repeated in some of the other starters we ordered.

Green Tangerine - Caustic Candy

Green Tangerine - a quiet courtyard oasis

Please don’t waste your money on dinner here. Have a drink at the lovely Bamboo Bar, but sidestep the monstrous Spices Garden. We spent US$240 for four people eating only starters and mains with one reasonably priced bottle of wine.

Ngon (Quan An Ngon), 18 Phan Boi Chau, Tel: +84 4 3942 8162

Fun, great service, good food. The safe-bet.

It’s loud, it’s packed, but at least it’s packed with tourists and Hanoians alike. Service was very good. It was efficient despite there being about 300 diners there at any one time. They suggested dishes when they thought you’d made the meal unbalanced, and no one has offered to peel my prawns at the table for a very long time. The food was good and the cost very reasonable.

Green Tangerine, 48 Hang Be, Tel: +84 4 3825 1286

I’m a bit sentimental about the Green Tangerine. I’ve been going since it opened in 2003. Its quirky French/Vietnamese fusion works pretty well, the presentation is interesting and I’ve never taken anyone there who hasn’t enjoyed their food and the styling of the restaurant. It’s expensive for a restaurant in Hanoi, but nowhere near Metropole pricing. Sitting inside or out, it’s a great little oasis, especially at lunch time.

Thanh Chuong Palace

One of the houses in Thanh Chuong Palace

Thanh Chuong Palace, Hien Ninh Commune, Day Dieu, Keo Ca Dam, Soc Son Town, Tel: +84 043 793 0667

We had lunch in the restaurant here after looking around the palace. It’s a quirky oddity of a place, and you wouldn’t expect the restaurant of a tourist attraction to serve great food, but our lunch was very tasty, with really generous portions. We enjoyed it sitting out on the terrace overlooking one of the many ponds.

I highly recommend visiting the palace as part of a half-day trip out of town. Exotissimo teamed it with a visit to the Giong Temple which was also beautiful. I rate these guys highly having had their guides in Thailand a couple of weeks ago during a trip on the Anantara Dream in Bangkok, and had friends use them to great success in Laos.

It’s safe to say that we ate well within our comfort zone in Hanoi. We were considering the sensitivities of our guests so were eating only upscale and super-safe.

That said though, apart from The Spices Garden we really did enjoy our food, and I’m looking forward to going back to Hanoi again soon and getting lowdown and local on the pavement.