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Sky lounge takes tea to new heights

Update: June, 01/2014 - 17:41
Room with a view: The Lounge overlooks My Dinh, an outlying district poised to become the new business centre of Ha Noi.

For diners with a sweet tooth, afternoon tea at the Lounge offers a taste of luxury, with some of the best pastries in Ha Noi and sweeping panoramic views of the city's skyline. Elisabeth Rosen reports.

The enduring images of Ha Noi are all at sidewalk level: vendors in conical hats, yellow colonial villas, plastic stools surrounding pots of pho. But that could be changing as new skybars and rooftop restaurants offer a new perspective on the sprawling capital. Poised above rapidly growing My Dinh District on the outskirts of Ha Noi, the Lounge is the latest establishment to offer meals with a view, boasting comfortable leather couches and floor to ceiling windows that provide a sweeping panorama of the evolving skyline.

If you want to see how Ha Noi's one per cent live, make yourself a date for high tea at the Lounge. The atmosphere is carefully crafted to convey a sense of luxury: even the water tastes somehow more elevated, infused with the crisp sweetness of mint, lemon and cucumber. Indulgence isn't cheap, of course. A tea set for two, elegantly set with five sweet and five savory bites, will set you back VND450,000 (US$21,5). Look out for the special events, which typically offer better value. A recent dessert buffet (VND250,000) featured products by chocolate decorator PCB Creations, like jaw-droppingly intricate pencil sets made from rich dark chocolate, alongside the daily assortment by chef Raphael Szurek.

The desserts are spectacular. Szurek, who studied at the Paul Bocuse Institute and did stints at two Michelin-starred restaurants in Paris before moving to French Grill, crafts flawless pastries that hint subtly at sweetness without being overkill. Pistachio cupcakes with a swirl of hazelnut cream have a light crunch; a miniature white chocolate and passion fruit tart strikes a delicate balance between acidity and richness.

While the desserts are western-style - you won't find any lotus seed che (pudding) or dau phu (tofu)- Szurek borrows a generous amount of ingredients from the Vietnamese pantry. To make rum baba, he soaks airy slices of sponge cake in a syrup infused with clove, star anise and cinnamon; like many of the desserts on the high tea platter, it's also on the French Grill menu, albeit in a slightly different format. Coconut and vanilla flavour thick layers of creme brulee, as they do at French Grill, and the astringent sweetness of passion fruit sneaks into a cloudlike cremeux. Marou chocolate is the key ingredient in a dark chocolate tartlet, its heated intensity toned down by a layer of raspberry jam.

Sugar and spice: The tea sets (VND450,000)include five sweet and five savory snacks.

The savory snacks are not as inspired. Some, like ham and cheese on a crusty miniature baguette, are decent, while others feel a tad skimpy: a few bites of chicken paired with a wilted arugula leaf, a swipe of tuna confit on a round of sliced bread. Spring rolls with shredded egg and vermicelli, a token nod to Viet Nam, might be the best of the savory selection, although on a recent visit they were sadly unaccompanied by nuoc cham, the traditional fish sauce-based dipping sauce.

The Lounge @ JW Marriott

Address: 8 Do Duc Duc Road

Tel.: 04 3833 5588

Hours: Afternoon tea is served from 2-6pm.

Price Range: VND450,000 for two (Prices vary for special events).

Comment: Elegant afternoon tea, with a spectacular dessert selection.

While additional drinks may sound tempting, such as the menu of fruit-based concoctions infused with local ingredients like lemongrass, ginger and honey (VND150,000), you're better off sticking to tea. The flavours, while pleasant, hardly justify paying triple the price for a juice at a typical cafe, especially since the glasses are stacked with more ice than liquid.

Ten years ago, My Dinh District was barely more than rice fields. Now, the outlying area is poised to become the new business centre. Gazing out the windows at the Lounge, it's not hard to envision a landscape of skybars and stylish restaurants. While JW Marriott is still the only reason to make a culinary trip out here, that might not be the case for too much longer. — VNS

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