|Past meets present: Pastel-coloured shutters line the walls in an ode to the country's colonial history. — VNS Photos David Mann
Perched above Hoan Kiem Lake, Cau Go boasts sweeping views of the city's bustling streets and a serene dining experience to escape the chaos ensuing six stories below. David Mann reports.
You know a restaurant is doing something right when it leaps into Trip Advisor's top ten within a few months of opening. While that typically means a place ranks high on the tourist novelty factor, Cau Go Restaurant has also found a place in the hearts of locals.
Perched above Hoan Kiem Lake, Cau Go boasts sweeping views of the city's bustling streets and a serene dining experience to escape the chaos ensuing six stories below.
To get here, though, you'll have to fight your way through the cluster of ao dai-clad hustlers hawking their respective restaurants at the bottom of the building. But once you arrive, you'll be glad you did.
The restaurant itself covers two floors. The entry-level floor is all indoors, perfect for escaping the summer heat. But come the cooler months, the impressive outdoor terrace on the second floor will offer a wonderful vantage from which to watch the craziness on the streets below - all while having a pho cocktail (VND120,000) in hand, of course.
Executive Chef Dao Thi Bay has designed a menu that offers traditional and contemporary cuisine from all over Viet Nam. In true Vietnamese-style, home sharing is the best way to enjoy the endless list of options.
To start we ordered the mustard leaves rolled with shrimp and pork (VND100,000) and the green papaya salad with dried beef (VND100,000). While the salad was a bit on the citrusy side, it was fresh and impeccably presented. The rolls also provided a light and tasty introduction to the restaurant's fare, complimented by a balanced sweet dipping sauce.
The venue pays homage to various stages of the country's history, yet retains a sophisticated and contemporary decor expected of a modern restaurant. The overall effect is an eclectic design that provides a stylish and comfortable experience for diners.
|Light and tasty: Mustard leaves rolled with shrimp and pork (VND100,000).
The attention to detail is painstaking. Ceramic dishes in the traditional Bat Trang style are mounted on concrete pillars while pastel-coloured shutters line the walls in an ode to the country's colonial history. An architectural light feature weaves its way around the open plan layout, complimenting a selection of vintage fans and oil lamps that give a little insight into the Viet Nam of past.
On the second floor, visitors are treated to glass cabinets filled with food stamps and Russian transistor radios from the state subsidy period, while original Thong Nhat bicycles from the 1970s can be found in the bathrooms loaded with flowers and fresh hand towels.
These wonderful touches make Cau Go as much about the experience as it is about the food.
For mains, we order a mix of favourites: ngon su su (VND80,000), rice noodles with barbecued pork and salad or bun thit nuong (VND120,000), beef sauteed with pineapple (VND120,000) and deep-fried tofu with chili and lemongrass (VND90,000).
|Tofu delight: Deep fried tofu dusted with stir-fried chili and lemongrass.
The presentation is faultless. Fresh herbs come heaped onto woven bamboo plates while everything else arrives on exquisite ceramic crockery. The southern specialty bun thit nuong is a knockout, completed by generous slabs of barbequed pork draped over the rice noodles.
The must-try of these dishes, however, is the deep-fried tofu. A crisp golden shell on the outside, buttery melt-in-your mouth tofu on the inside. Dusted with stir-fried chili and lemongrass and dipped in the soy dipping sauce - heaven.
Other standouts on the menu include a sumptuous caramel pork served in a slow-cook pot (VND110,000) and traditional sea bass served in passionfruit sauce (VND120,000).
Cau Go Restaurant
Address: 5th and 6th floor, No1/3/5/7 Dinh Tien Hoang Street, Hoan Kiem District, Ha Noi
Dine in only
The prices may sting when compared to options at the bottom of the rung, but for what you're eating and where you're eating it, it's more than reasonable. As my companion pointed out, the prices were "comparable with Quan An Ngon, but the food, service and overall experience was leagues ahead".
This may explain why the restaurant has also piqued the interest of the city's power lunching business crowd and those seeking some reprieve from the chaotic street food scene.
The benchmark customer service is also a welcome boost to Ha Noi's low standards that can leave a lot to be desired for the weary and linguistically challenged expat.
A must try for visitors and locals alike. — VNS