|All that glam: While Bobby
Chinn’s decor is certainly stunning, it does not overshadow the food
1 Ba Trieu Street, Ha Noi
Fine dining in a glamorous but comfortable setting.food.
love Bobby Chinn?
Chinn needs no introduction; his restaurant is the darling of food and style
reporters from New York to Hong Kong, but his upcoming expansion promises to
impress yet again.
Alyssa Worsham and Sara
Schapiro charge it.
After stealing the show in
the New York Times’ review of Ha Noi restaurants last month, Bobby Chinn
certainly doesn’t need any more publicity. His restaurant, ideally located at
the southwest corner of Hoan Kiem Lake, is a favourite among tourists and expats
looking for a more glamorous atmosphere than the nearby street stalls or Bao
Khanh bars. And Mr Chinn delivers: billowing red curtains, scattered flower
petals on table tops (and toilets), dried roses suspended from the ceiling,
cutting edge art, delicious "pan-global" food, and, of course, Bobby
Chinn himself, certainly set the scene for a memorable dining experience.
The Viet Nam News has
never reviewed Bobby Chinn, mostly because he doesn’t need the press, but also
because most of the paper’s staff can’t afford to eat, much less drink,
there, at least not regularly. Or not without substantial credit card debt. For,
despite rumours to the contrary, the newspaper staff must pay for their own
meals, and only receive minimum pay for each piece, regardless of the restaurant
in question. In short, we review restaurants we like. So here we are.
Regardless, Mr Chinn is in the midst of a massive expansion, having rented out
the empty corner space beside his present location, and he will be making some
newsworthy and notable changes. First, there will be a larger bar, which means
that in addition to the Moroccan style lounge, complete with hookah pipes and
flavoured tobacco (try the cappuccino), there will be more tables, bar counter
space, and possibly a convertible private lounge, where patrons can sip perhaps
the only consistently well made martini in town, or some of Mr Chinn’s
original concoctions, one of which includes a fizzy codeine tablet.
Another new feature will
be a sushi bar, which should please other-ethnic-food-starved expats who have
grown weary of banh cuon, though Mr Chinn does offer a gourmet version.
He admits that while the rice might not be as perfect as at true sushi joints,
he can certainly promise fresh sashimi and creative rolls. Mr Chinn has also
been known to whip up some homemade veggie quesadillas with mango chipotle salsa
(from the lunch menu) and black bean nachos for customers craving Mexican, or at
least a San Franciscan interpretation. These do not disappoint; in fact, if Mr
Chinn is as capable at recreating Japanese food as he is at Californian-Mexican,
the new sushi bar will be a huge success, by any standard.
However, there is
absolutely no reason to miss out on the regular menu, which includes a sublime
Japanese eggplant salad, a velvety foie gras in crisp rice paper with ginger
sauce and caramelised apples, and a succulent seared dayboat scallop with
truffle pea jus emulsion, and those are just the appetisers. Mr Chinn’s filet
mignon is one of the best in town, with fluffy mashed potatoes and a hearty red
wine-mushroom ragout, and the salmon filet with ginger demi glace, served over
wasabi mashed potatoes, is always cooked to perfection, from the medium centre
to the delicately crisp skin. The grilled jumbo shrimp with sweet coconut sticky
rice and red curry are the ultimate comfort food. Vegetarians will swoon over
the Mezze Platter, a smorgasbord of humus, taboule, babaganoush, falafel,
marinated veggies, tzaziki sauce and warm pita, and the bite sized grapes
covered in goat cheese and pistachios are great for a side dish or a snack with
For those wanting the
Bobby bang without so many bucks, however, we highly recommend the lunch menu,
which includes some cheaper, smaller portions of dinner options, but also a
sloppy joe, a fantastic burger, bun bo with filet mignon and of course,
the amazing veggie quesadillas, all of which cost only US$5. For dessert, at
lunch or dinner, the lemon scented creme brulee is lovely, but the chocolate
pudding (molten chocolate cake) is the sinful star, as is the chocolate taco
often served as an amuse bouche between dinner and dessert. Mr Chinn’s wine
list, provided by wine expert Donald Berger at Vine, is both lengthy and well
selected for Ha Noi, and might we say a much better value by the bottle than by
the glass. In addition, the staggering array of bourbons, single malts, and
other hard-to-find-in-these-parts libations are worthy of a trip alone.
But we digress. The
renovations. While the additional dining space and private dining rooms will
certainly help Mr Chinn welcome more tourists, we are hopeful that the new DJ
booth, stage for live performances and expanded bar area will offer a hip
alternative for expats tired of choosing between the same old backpacker haunts
and stuffy (or cheesy) hotel bars. For though Matt Gross of the New York Times
heralded a new age in the Ha Noi restaurant scene, the city’s watering holes
are still substantially lacking in diversity, creativity and atmosphere. Mr
Chinn’s plans for a Vietnamese bistro in Ha Noi, which will serve Vietnamese
tapas, and for his new outpost in HCM City also promise to spice up Viet Nam’s
nightlife. The expanded Bobby Chinn should open in mid-April, and while this
will no doubt bring even more accolades from international papers, we are
confident that Mr Chinn can continue to live up to the hype. VNS