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French bistro meets benchmark in taste, value

Update: March, 27/2012 - 09:16

 

Simple decor and menu: Diners enjoy lunch in the first floor dining room after selecting the perfect set from a traditional bistro chalkboard menu. — VNS Photos Kathy Shea

DC Bistro Boutique

Address: 15A Ngo Van So, Hoan Kiem, Ha Noi

Tel: 0439440288

Hours: 9am to 11pm

Price: Three course set lunch, VND130,000

Comments: Vast wine list, retail price plus corkage fee

A big part of the charm of bistro food is simplicity, which doesn't mean a lack of taste. Ha Noi's newest version ticks all the boxes for presentation, price and position which will probably keep it around for a long time. Kathy Shea reports.One might mistake the DC Bistro Boutique for a wine shop at first glance, as a peek through the window reveals a large selection of wines from around the world displayed for sale. Only a small sign in the corner of the window indicates the presence of Hanoi's newest bistro upstairs, launched by none other than chef Didier Corlou of La Verticale fame.

To me, the thought of a bistro brings back memories of trips to France, the lunches at sidewalks tables as I watch the world go by, simple nights at favourite neighboorhood haunts over delicious French comfort food, long talks with friends over carafes of house wine, and walking home fully satiated along quaint streets. The memory of aloof waiters adds an extra level of authenticity to the experience, which is actually missing at DC Bistro Boutique, as the staff are attentive, efficient and eager to please.

On the first floor, we slid onto the red bench that lines the wall behind tables placed closely, yet still comfortably, together in anticipation of a traditional French meal. The simple de cor and a tempting set menu written on a chalkboard quickly proved that the bistro's owners have seen a French bistro or two.

Depending on how hungry you are, you can choose one, two or three courses (VND 110,000, 120,000, or 130,000). Never one to pass on a deal, I opt for the three course set. My entree, a tomato mozarella salad, came quickly and was sufficiently full of ripe tomato slices and firm mozarella dressed lightly with a tasty vinagrette. My friend chose the ever popular bistro favourite soupe de poissons (fish soup) which was lovely although he had to ask for cheese to sprinkle on top and the rouille (a kind of garlic, chili mayonaise sauce) was notably missing. Yet even with the missing sauce, the taste still brought me back to the wonderful old Provencale cowboy who taught me how to prepare the perfect bowl of soupe de poissons as his grumpy wife glared at me from the kitchen during my first trip to Arles.

 

Big enough to share: The profiteroles with vanilla ice cream in pastry covered with dark chocolate sauce are delicious.
Sight for sore eyes: The rustic presentation of the Assorted Tapas is a visual sensation before diving in for a taste.
 
A big part of the charm of bistro food is the simplicity, which does not mean a lack of taste. Although standards such as cassoulet (meat and white bean stew) and magret de canard (duck breast) are available a la carte, they weren't part of the set during our visit. But steak frites (steak and fries), another favourite, was one of the five or so main options so we both opted to give it a go and were giddy with the presentation which included a thick cut of local steak on a wooden plank next to a clay bowl full of fried potato rounds, perfectly golden and crunchy on the outside and soft and melty on the inside. Since it was such a thick cut of meat it wasn't cooked evenly and the server didn't ask how done we wanted it, so it was more than a tad overdone but still tender and tasty. I found the pepper sauce to be more of a gravy than I was expecting, but it was still delicious and I would order it again, taking care to ask for a nice medium rare.

I've never been much for dessert, and often opt for another glass of wine instead, but since the set menu is such a good deal I went with it! My pear tart was fairly average, tasty but nothing to write home about, but my friend's chocolate cake, a dark chocolate fondant served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, was lovely and not too sweet.

All in all a very good lunch deal, close to the French Embassy which makes me think they'll stick around for a long time and continue to offer good food and service.

On another visit I was eager to try the tapas so we shared the Assorted Tapas (VND172,000) which included a selection of cheese and meat, guacamole, tomatoes, cucumbers, crackers and bread. When paired with a shared dessert of profiteroles (vanilla ice cream in pastry, covered with dark chocolate sauce, VND58,000), it was sufficient although lacking enough vegetables to make it a balanced meal. Tasty but I'll probably stick to the set lunch on future visits.

Our dining room was a bit plain, with simple white walls, with a room in the back richly decorated with robust red walls, a dark floor and wine bottles on the wall. A small balcony overlooking the street provides the perfect setting to enjoy an after meal coffee or a glass of one of the numerous wines available. Bon appetit! — VNS

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