|Style meets substance: The restaurant's bespoke feel and top quality finishes provide a stylish canvas for iconic dishes. — VNS Photos David Mann
As a winning challenger on Viet Nam's Iron Chef competition, Peter Lester is not one to settle for second best. His latest venture is Top Chef, located in Ha Noi's exclusive Golden Westlake complex, and it is no exception to his personal rule. The restaurant serves up a winning selection of local and international cuisine with a modern twist to sweep even the most seasoned foodie off his or her feet. David Mann reports.
There are few 5-star restaurants in Viet Nam where chefs will invite you to watch them prepare your food in a custom-made industrial kitchen. Places where you can order dishes from an interactive iPad menu are also few and far between.
Enter the Top Chef Restaurant and Bar, Ha Noi's newest 5-star eatery determined to take everything you know about conventional dining and flip it on its head. Opening at the end of last year, the restaurant boasts a fresh take on traditional cuisine with a diverse selection of dishes prepared fresh, in-house and (literally) at the push of a button.
Tucked away between the bustling thoroughfares of Thuy Khue and Hoang Hoa Tham, the Top Chef Restaurant & Bar employs graduates from KOTO (Know One Teach One) and is affiliated with Ha Noi's premier hospitality training academy, CHE. Their proposition is simple: to transform cooking standards in Viet Nam by combining traditional flavours with a modern (and hygienic) approach to cooking.
Renowned Australian chef Peter Lester, already famous in Viet Nam as a successful challenger on the reality tv cooking contest Iron Chef, says he is eager to help the next generation of Vietnamese chefs - and it shows.
Visitors will notice that in spite of the restaurant's polished and clean-cut exterior, this isn't just a place to come and eat fancy food. In fact, the notion of eating a VND40,000 plate of my xao bo (beef stir-fried noodle) made in a 5-star kitchen was previously unheard of.
|Humble crumble: The restaurant puts its own stylish spin on old classics, including an apple crumble served with ice cream inside with creme anglaise and apple gratin (top). In a city where presentation often comes at the expense of taste or efficiency, Top Chef has the goods to back up its promise as a five-star restaurant.
However, guests will be delighted to know that the restaurant is one of few upscale eateries where patrons can choose between traditional dishes at street-food prices and upscale options such as beef consumme(VND118,000) or a New Zealand rack of lamb (VND358,000).
All dishes are prepared a la Top Chef style - fast, fresh, with finesse and with a flourish. There is also an international wine list to meet all budgets, ranging from the Margaret River (Australia) Vasse Felix Semillon Sauvignon Blanc (VND640,000 per bottle) to the French bottle of Joseph Drouhin Alexe-Corton available for a cool VND1.85 million. The restaurant also offers a custom-made outdoor bar overlooking the pool grounds of the Golden Westlake and a downstairs cafe offering baked desserts and home-made ice-cream.
Address: 151 Thuy Khue Street
Hours: Tues - Sun 11:30am-2pm, 6-10pm
Price Range: VND60,000 - 1,500,000
Dishes to try: King prawn, Atlantic salmon, pinamisu
For entree, guests can choose between a wide variety of dishes, including oysters (VND168,000) and Three Peppered Australian Beef Carpaccio (VND228,000). We opted for the Salmon Tartar (VND268,000), Top Chef King Prawn (VND199,000) and Trio Spring Rolls.
As the dishes arrive, the restaurant's focus on style is apparent. The salmon, diced with capers, red onion, lemon juice, pickled cucumber, Tabasco sauce and fresh dill, is served in a suspended glass bowl and served with black caviar and herbal olive oil. The textures are soft and silky, infused with strong mix of exotic flavours.
However, guests cannot go past the Top Chef King Prawn. Pan-seared and served with (among other things) a divine spiced butter caramel and shrimp head sauce, this is a dish rich in flavour and texture.
For mains, patrons can immerse themselves in an equally cosmopolitan spread of main dishes in addition to the pizza, pasta, noodle and set lunch options. The hardest part is choosing. Available dishes range from handmade tortellini with fresh prawns, scallops and squid (VND248,000) to braised beef cheeks with carrot puree (VND368,000) to Thai beef coconut curry (VND58,000).
Our first main was a beautifully plated, succulent pork belly served with sweet potato mash with thyme meat jus and salsa verde followed by the duck confit served on a bed of lemongrass purée with a sweet apple and raisin Compote. The pork was soft, slow-cooked to perfection, while the duck collapsed off the bone.
The standout main, however, was the fresh Atlantic Salmon Fillet. Pan-fried and accompanied by a buttery wasabi radish puree, sautéed Asparagus and Caramel Lime reduction.
It is rare that I have the compulsion to attack a piece of art with polished silverware, but when I do it's usually for a good reason. As dessert arrived, you can imagine how this food critic may have reacted to the artistic offerings known as Pinamisu (VND99,000), Tropical Floating Island (VND99,000) and Apple Crumble (VND99,000).
Being Australian, I know a good apple crumble when I see one. Golden on the outside, warm stewed apples on the inside. But Top Chef, once again, turned expectations inside out. That is, the ice cream arrived somehow (magically) inside a ball of crumble with a shot glass of creme anglaise and apple au gratin. Besides the outstanding taste, the presentation alone was outstanding.
Same can be said of the restaurant's spin on the age-old tiramisu. Again, no 'traditional' tiramisu served here. Instead, a cleverly composed pineapple and coconut infused tiramisu appeared in a floating glass bowl. The hand-made chocolates were also a favourite with the table, all made in-house in the restaurant's own chocolate kitchen.
With countless restaurants in Ha Noi boasting international cuisine, it is good to see the occasional challenger looking to turn tradition on its head. If this is just the beginning of the Top Chef dynasty, we're looking forward to the sequel. — VNS