FOOD WITH A VIEW: The restaurant's terrace is protected under the shade of a giant ancient frangipani tree. VNS Photos Mỹ Hà
by Nguyễn Mỹ Hà
After one year of complete shut down due to the pandemic, I was glad to find out the Lê Art restaurant is back to business again. A fine dining restaurant located by Hà Nội's Museum of Fine Arts, the restaurant has a large lawn and garden.
The giant frangipani tree in the museum garden loses all its leaves in spring, yet it gives a beautiful gigantic view. Lê Art was only opened last year, briefly a month ahead of the fourth wave of the pandemic that wreaked havoc in Việt Nam, and we were glad to find out that it has survived COVID and reopened.
Spring is a good time to sit outside and enjoy the fresh air and mild temperature if it doesn't rain. It was a big get together where we reunited with our high-school friends, who are now living elsewhere in the world. For two years they could not return to Việt Nam to see their families, and ageing parents and meet up with friends.
Lê Art is a western restaurant whose strength is steaks and wines. But for lunch, we opted to go light, with lots of salad, some pasta, pizza and juices.
We got two types of salad, Lê Art Salad (VNĐ165,000) and the Ceasar salad (VNĐ145,000). The former has both green and purple lettuce, some mustard sprouts and fruit including mango and apple cubes and fresh strawberries in a tender sweet and sour dressing, and golden brown almond slices.
Strawberries used to be a delicacy we could only have transported from Đà Lạt in boxes, or imported from China. Over the past couple of years, strawberry farms have sprung up in mountainous northern provinces of Mộc Châu, Sơn La, Lai Châu, or even closer to Hà Nội.
Farms in Ba Vì also grow Japanese or Korean strawberries. Hana strawberries in season are in great demand. As children and the elderly can have them fresh or with yoghurt, the home-grown strawberries have significantly added a rich source of vitamins A and C to the daily diet of this section of the population.
FUN AND FRUITY: Lê Art salad with mango, apple and strawberry in season.
Next, we had assorted cold cut plates with salamis, cured meat and cheese (VNĐ395,000). Then came the house pizzas with different toppings: seafood (VNĐ225,000) and five cheeses (VNĐ275,000). The seafood tasted delicious, but the five cheeses got everyone's biggest approval. Simple and tasty, only a salad and a slice of pizza can be nutritious enough for you to get through the day, with a juicy drink like pineapple, carrot or watermelon.
We order more pasta, spaghetti with crab meat (VNĐ185,000) and a bolognese (VNĐ145,000), to share, of course. Everyone got a bite, not much, but enough for testing and getting the flavours.
We tried crab spaghetti before, prior to the pandemic closure, and loved it. Again, the pasta tasted delicious, which led me to think that a Sunday brunch here for the family could be an end of semester treat for our kids.
PERFECT PASTA: Spaghetti al dente with crab meat sauce.
It would be a waste not to mention the Museum of Fine Arts next door. The museum stores the best of Việt Nam's contemporary, and some ancient, artworks. You can find masterpieces of all great French Indochina École des Beaux-Arts artists here.
In primary school, children have drawing and art lessons, but they rarely got to go to an art museum to contemplate real artworks. Unless you take art study in joining a club or as extracurricular activity then rarely do you see schoolchildren spending time here.
Across the street from the museum is the Temple of Literature and the Imperial Academy, Việt Nam's first university founded in 1070 by King Lý Thánh Tông.
The temple is the destination of many children in the city and elsewhere in the country when they visit Hà Nội. The most crowded day is on the third day of the Lunar New Year, as it's the day to pay tribute to the great teachers of our lives. During weekdays, the temple is mostly visited by tourists and schoolchildren.
Hanoian high-school students have a ritual prior to their important exams when they come here to touch stone statues of turtles to get some luck for their exams. The turtles carry stone steles on their back, inscribing the names and careers of those earned a doctorate in the royal court exams in ancient times.
Not all those who prayed succeeded, but it's always good to know that there's someone up there guiding us and sprinkling some luck to us to supplement the hard work, time and dedication we spent on the subjects we learned.
Then, after all that, what could be better than a treat of pizza or pasta at Lê Art. It is quite wonderful. VNS