Expats are heading for a small restaurant on West Lake where they can commune with tastes of their homeland in a restful and imaginative environment. Elisabeth Rosen report.
|Generous spread: Boards of terrine and other snacks are ideal for sharing. — Photo Courtersy of Commune Restaurant
Open the children's book at your table, and you'll find the menu, pasted where the text of The Lion King peters out. Along the bright cream walls, board games and colourful magazines invite you to throw aside your laptop. At Commune, the vibe is more East Village than West Lake. It feels like an artist collective that just happens to serve food.
This is all part of the restaurant's mission. The international team of owners – Dinh Huyen Thu (Vietnamese), Jeremy Wellard (Australian) and Virginia Holloway (New Zealand) – created Commune as a space to "mix work and play", as Wellard puts it. Like the eponymous hippie colonies, the restaurant seeks to provide a home away from home for people who seek creative inspiration. But with shared office space and monthly networking events for local professionals, the atmosphere is more suit-and-tie than barefoot.
People come to work, but they also come to eat. Like Hanoi Social Club, Commune offers a particular brand of comfort food targeted at expats hungry for familiar flavours. But where the Social Club features gently spiced Moosewood-style curries and couscous, Commune has a more geographical loyalty. This might be the only place in Ha Noi where you can get toast slathered in Australian honey or Vegemite (VND50,000) or a bacon butty (VND60,000).
The portions are probably more generous in Australia. Here, scrambled eggs (VND80,000) come with a single piece of toast, and muffins (VND30,000) are petite cousins of their foreign counterparts. But the quality is top-notch. Flecked with chives and scooped atop dense slabs of Donkey Bakery multigrain, the eggs taste like golden clouds; the muffins, also delivered daily by the bakery, have a light interior and delicate crumb.
Smooth baked eggs with roasted red peppers and goats' cheese (VND90,000) are a bit larger – or perhaps the clay pot they arrive in is a clever visual illusion. You can choose the carnivorous version, filled with pieces of salami, or a vegetarian alternative spiced with nutty dukkah. Served on a small breadboard alongside a generous pile of crusty baguette ovals, this might be one of the nicest presentations on the menu.
If you're really hungry, skip the eggs and go for the smashed leprechaun (VND80,000): two thick slices of Donkey Bakery sourdough slathered in creamy avocado, with dabs of feta and a mound of bacon fried to a perfect crisp. The combination of fat heaped on fat works gloriously well.
Think and drink: The atmosphere at Commune encourages creative mingling.
Address: 20A Duong Ven Ho (Thuy Khue)
Tel.: 04 6684 7903 Hours: 7.30am-12am (5pm on Mondays)
Price Range: VND50,000 - 300,000
Comment: A creative workspace that doubles as a home for Australian comfort food. Dishes to try: Smashed leprechaun, scrambled eggs, shareable boards
Like the ingredients, the prices bring back memories of living in the West. The steep cost of even a small meal makes a visit to Commune a treat, rather than an everyday ritual. Still, on "the days when a bowl of pho just isn't enough", as the Australian owner says, the food makes a persuasive case for a splurge.
No matter what you order, it will probably take a while to get there. Servers are polite, but their English is often limited. One companion asked for milk to go with her coffee, which never arrived.
It's also difficult to find the place. The numbers don't go in order along this side of the lake, so your best bet is to follow the charmingly old-fashioned hand-drawn map on the Commune website (http:// www.communehanoi.com).
But Commune is a valuable addition to the city's culinary scene, particularly at night. As the sun sets over the lake, the place changes vibe, offering shared boards and bowls of snacks that pair perfectly with drinks. There are other places to find brunch in Ha Noi, but few where you can linger until nightfall over tapas-style plates of patatas bravas (VND60,000) or a board layered with terrine, onion jam and fresh bread (VND160,000). Sit on the balcony overlooking the lake, and you might feel a touch of creative inspiration. — VNS