Casual Italian dining at Milan Restaurant

Update: July, 30/2016 - 09:00
Taste the rainbow: The Insalata Caprese con Burratina. VNS Photo Edward Dalton
Viet Nam News

by Edward Dalton

A restaurant receiving a facelift is always cause for celebration, even more so when the older version was already a great restaurant. With a new menu recently introduced, Milan Restaurant at the InterContinental Hanoi West Lake hotel is better equipped than ever to guide diners through a comprehensive culinary tour of Italy.

With so much regional variation, be it the buttery meat-based dishes of Lombardy, or the abundance of seafood found in Neapolitan cuisine, putting a finger on what ‘authentic Italian’ food means will always be a challenge. Two things that most Italian chefs would agree on, however, is that simplicity and the quality of ingredients take precedence.

With that in mind, Milan Restaurant does an admirable job of upholding these two central pillars of Italian cuisine. Consider the décor for example; modelled on a ’trattoria’(casual Italian eatery), the vivid orange colours and floor-to-ceiling photographs displaying scenes of Italy certainly provide some candy to ensure the eyes are as satisfied as the stomach. The chequered tablecloths, rustic floor tiles and simple place settings, however, help to create a casual atmosphere, which ensures guests never need to feel guilty about having their elbows on the table, or dare I say, licking a plate clean.

Many people may feel that dining at one of the flagship restaurants of a five-star hotel is out of reach, but the staff at Milan Restaurant are keen to break that association. In addition to the casual layout, the prices are not as eye-watering as one might expect. Similarly, the service manages to be attentive without being intimidating. There is no sommelier, for example, as it doesn’t fit the more casual dining concept. 

As for the updated menu, the first thing that strikes me is the ample choice; this is neither a pizzeria nor pasta house, yet there are 15 types of pizza and 14 varieties of pasta. What follows is a large selection of starters, soups, risottos and secondi (main courses). The page of desserts reads like my own private confession to the fat fairy, and I am mortified by the realisation that I can only order one of them.

To get the meal started, what better way than to indulge in that most humble of Italian ingredients - the tomato. The Insalata Caprese con Burratina (VNĐ290,000) is a rainbow of organic yellow, red and green tomatoes grown in Đà Lạt, surrounding a mound of creamy burrata cheese. It’s a light starter with extra flavour courtesy of a liberal drizzle of pesto and balsamic reduction. Delicious, but barely a scratch on the beast that is my appetite.

The next two starters almost sent me into a stupor of glee. First was the Tagliata di Manzo (VNĐ260,000), a plate of lightly seared Tajima wagyu beef, simply topped with rocket and shaved parmesan. The beef was medium-rare and cooked to perfection, matching flawlessly with the peppery rocket and nutty cheese.

Accompanying the beef dish, I decided to invite some surf to join the turf, and ordered the Insalata di Granchio (VNĐ295,000). Seared Hokkaido scallops and Nha Trang crab meat came paired with pomelo segments and orange reduction, creating a well-balanced dish of sweet and savoury. Everything was lovingly plated by Xuân Cao, the chef who mans the kitchen on a day-to-day basis.

I ordered a pasta dish to separate my antipasti and secondi. With the mild flavours of the scallops and crab still fresh on the tongue, I opted for more fruits of the sea and ordered the Linguine alla Pescatora (VNĐ320,000). Linguini and a simple tomato and saffron sauce played host to mussels, clams, calamari, scallops and prawns. A deeply satisfying flavour and generous amount of seafood were enough to distract me from the fact that the pasta wasn’t as al dente as I suspect it should’ve been. My main course, the Merluzzo Nero (VNĐ740,000) was the highlight of my meal – tender and flaky pan-fried black cod sitting in a light and creamy buttery saffron soup, with a slice of toasted bread topped with aioli.

Concluding the meal with a bit of razzle-dazzle was the dessert - Profiteroles al Cioccolato (VNĐ120,000), a decadent combination of choux pastry with vanilla ice cream encased in a chocolate shell, marshmallows and fruit compote. The chocolate shell was split open by a hypnotic display of hot melted chocolate being slowly poured over it, and it was many times more delicious than whatever you are now imagining.

This is a restaurant I would return to in a heartbeat. It’s certainly not an everyday restaurant, but nor is it one to be reserved for special occasions. However, for those intermittent times the cravings for good Italian food come crawling back, this is definitely where I will go to satisfy them.

As one Italian proverb helpfully written on the menu declares: “The trouble with Italian food is that five or six days later, you’re hungry again”, so at least I know my visits couldn’t be more than once a week, much to the benefit of my waistline. — VNS

Name: Milan Restaurant

Address: 5 Từ Hoa, Tây Hồ, Hà Nội

Telephone: 04 6270 8888     

Bookings / Delivery: Yes / No

Comments: A casual upscale Italian restaurant at InterContinental Hanoi West Lake hotel. Located on the second floor of the main building. Open daily from 6pm to 10.30pm.

Perfectly simple: Linguine alla Pescatora. VNS Photo Edward Dalton
Hypnotically chocolatey: Profiterole al Ciocolato. VNS Photo Edward Dalton
Authentic: Insalata di Granchio (foreground) and Tagliata di Manzo. VNS Photo Edward Dalton
Flavours of the sea: Merluzzo Nero. VNS Photo Edward Dalton