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High location and standards to match

Update: December, 04/2012 - 22:28

 

Stunning vista: Occupying the 19th floor of the Pacific Palace, the Rooftop offers unparalleled views of the city skyline. — VNS Photos Jak Phillips
Winter warmer: Packed full of flavour and piping hot, the frog chao offers a satisfying antidote to the coming Ha Noi winter.
Easy as pie: Despite its simple flavours, the ostentatious presentation of The Rooftop's apple pie lifts a staple dessert into a different league.
 
Like similar restaurants around the world known for their elevated positions, The Rooftop has a reputation for first-class service and fine dining that puts it above the rest. Elisabeth Rosen reports

The Rooftop

Address: Pacific Place, 83B Ly Thuong Kiet, 19th fl.

Tel: 091 370 6966

Price Range: VND100,000-500,000

Comment: Sophisticated global cuisine. Dishes to try: chicken soup, frog porridge, apple pie

Strewn with squares of bacon and boulder-sized croutons, the enormous Caesar salad would serve one in America – as an appetizer. But here, it arrives at a table of four well-dressed women, ready to descend on it with chopsticks.

It's a typical moment at the Rooftop, where the menu touches loosely on Vietnamese, pan-Asian and European influences, avoiding the confines of any particular cuisine. Frog porridge shares table space with chicken cordon bleu; that Caesar salad might be followed by pan-fried pigs' trotters and apple pie. To visit the Rooftop is to travel to a fantasy world of globalised luxury, where there are no borders and the only passport is the fork.

This vision extends to the surroundings. Recently renovated, the cavernous space feels like an Asian designer's fantasy of a glamorous Western restaurant. Stepping out of the elevator, diners are swept past an enormous glass wine case into velvet chairs in opulent shades of crimson and plum. An entire wall has been replaced by floor-to-ceiling windows, which slide open to reveal a balcony with a sprawling view.

This is a change in presentation for the owner of Quan An Ngon, where the modest setting reflects the traditional Vietnamese menu. But although the Rooftop has a splashier venue, it preserves the sense of integrity that made Quan An Ngon such a success. The kitchen turns out elegantly flavoured plates that convey both the richness of Western food and the sparer aesthetic of Vietnamese cuisine, with Thai and Malaysian flavours lending brief, thrilling appearances.

To understand the full breadth of the Rooftop's vision, you'll need to work your way through the menu. Start with soup: a golden chicken consomme infused with kaffir lime leaves and cloudlike, scallion-studded chicken dumplings (VND80,000), or a colourful Thai soup filled with shrimp and tomato (VND95,000). The bright flavours herald an equally dazzling meal.

Make the rounds of the appetizers, making sure to touch on plump spring rolls stuffed with smoked pork and pungent shiso leaves (VND70,000) and Thai squid salad (VND130,000), the fiery, peanut-flecked offspring of green papaya salad and ceviche. Crunchy and acidic, the dish serves as a reminder that cuisine doesn't have to be divided along geographical lines.

The dishes become more grandiose as one moves through the menu, with frog chao (VND290,000) perhaps the most luxurious of them all. The English menu translates chao as "porridge," but this does a blatant disservice to the creamy rice, somewhere between polenta and risotto in texture. It arrives in an enormous earthen vessel alongside frog simmered in a thick amber sauce, so soft it falls off the bone. Ladled into small bowls and mixed with the hoisin-fragrant sauce, the rich chao banishes the chill of Ha Noi winter.

Rice provides a base for many other dishes, simpler but no less impressive. A plump shrimp adorns a clay pot of crisp-edged grains (VND120,000), studded with mushrooms and hints of caramel and garlic. Glutinous xoi (VND70,000) is topped with generous shreds of pork and Chinese sausage.

The chef balances the richness of Western dishes with the sense of restraint that is a hallmark of Vietnamese cuisine. In a shrimp gratin (VND160,000), a thick, gooey blanket of melted mozzarella covers a base of meaty king prawns, served with crusty bread toasted until bronze. Yet the small portion and carefully crafted flavours hold it back from being overkill.

The desserts pay tribute to both Vietnamese and Western classics. A tall glass of che, the Vietnamese concoction of sweetened condensed milk, ice and fruit, shares menu space with a decadent chocolate mousse (both VND40,000). Some desserts are more shareable than others. Clouds of tiramisu (VND40,000) arrive pre-cut into four bite-size rectangles, while apple pie (VND90,000) comes in a round stack of buttery, crepe-like layers, perched on a raspberry sea. It's difficult to divide, although once you take the first bite, you will probably want your own.

The Rooftop strives to be not just a restaurant, but a destination. On weekends, the vast stage in the centre of the room plays host to music performances. (Upcoming events are listed on the restaurant's website, http://therooftop.vn). After 9pm, the place turns into a bar. But despite all the glamour, the food is what makes the Rooftop more than a room with a view. — VNS

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