By Thúy Hằng
In the weeks and months before Tết (Lunar New Year festival), I’d noticed that a small building within the confines of the Việt Nam Museum of Fine Arts was undergoing renovations. It had looked abandoned since the lovely Matchbox restaurant moved out five or six years ago, and what looked like elaborate renovations offered the promise of a new addition to the city’s dining scene.
PERFECT SETTING: The outdoor area of Lê Art looks over the front yard of the gorgeous Fine Arts Museum.
By chance, a few days before International Women’s Day, a long-time friend invited me to have lunch at a newly opened restaurant, which, in his words, was “super beautiful”.
“You need to dress nicely, to match its nice view,” he suggested.
And this was I got to have a look at Lê Art, in the Fine Arts Museum.
When I arrived, my friend, a super-caring guy, was there to meet me with a big smile. He had already selected a table outside, where, in a romantic setting, we could enjoy not only the great spring weather but also the green carpet of grass on the museum’s front yard as well as its gorgeous French design.
Every woman there was offered a special cocktail. I wasn’t overly impressed to be honest, as it was too sweet for my liking and was a little too much like syrup. But its hot pink colour was certainly evocative.
MOSTLY THE SAME: The Lobster Soup is quite similar to bisque.
Our lunch began with smooth Lobster Soup, which is similar to classic French bisque. Although it didn’t have any “Wow” factor, as its flavour was far from what I’d had before, it was perfectly fine. It only loses out when compared to fancy bisque.
The second course was “Torchons de foie gras with blueberry sauce and apricots”.
NEW EXPERIENCE: Torchons de foie gras with blueberry sauce and apricots.
The word “torchons” piqued my interest, so I Googled it to find out what it meant. “Torchons de foie gras is the sister of foie gras terrine,” I read on one site. “The main difference is the shape and cooking preparation. Both terrine and torchon are made from raw foie gras and little else. ‘Torchon’ means ‘dish towel’ in French, since the foie gras is traditionally wrapped in a towel for cooking. Many prepared torchons are sold wrapped in a towel, to make that historical connection.”
The torchons were placed on a piece of toast and topped with a pinch of apricot jam, which melted on the tongue and had a distinct sweetness that created a perfect balance, especially when you have the appetiser with a glass of wine. Like its sister terrine, the torchon “won over” my choosy taste buds. As always, amazingly, foie gras made me happy.
ON THE SIDE: Whole grain bread with butter and baked paté.
The menu also included a small basket of whole-grain bread with butter and baked paté. Though the foie gras came with toast, I still tried some of the bread, which together with baked paté was quite good. But, for me, bread feels redundant in a meal of such premium dishes.
For the main course, I decided on “Black Angus tenderloin with deep-fried calamari and red wine sauce”.
UNUSUAL COMBO: Black Angus tenderloin with deep-fried calamari and red wine sauce.
The premium beef well and truly met my expectations and was tender and succulent. The jury is still out on combining beef with calamari, however. For a meal that leans towards French-style cuisine, it reminded me of “Surf & Turf”, which is quite popular in the US. Still, the plate was clean when I finished.
For the dessert, I went with “Moist chocolate and avocado cheesecake” -- a fruit-infused mousse-like treat. It was smooth, creamy, rich, velvety, fresh, and, most importantly for me, not too sweet. But after enjoying some high-calorie dishes already, finishing it was a bit of a challenge.
SWEET TREAT: Moist chocolate and avocado cheesecake.
Three days later, I was back at Lê Art on Women’s Day, with my best friend, to try the simpler side of the menu.
We ordered a Caesar’s Salad (VNĐ145,000) to share before our mains. My friend chose “Red wine braised lamb shanks fettuccine” (VNĐ185,000), while I picked “Grilled salmon with mashed potato and orange balsamic” (VNĐ315,000).
I have no complaints at all about the salad, as it was fresh and the salad dressing creamy, rich, and tangy. Romaine lettuce is normally the standard in such a salad, but I didn’t mind that the chef at Lê Art used my favourite - crunchy iceberg lettuce.
AS IT SHOULD BE: Grilled salmon with mashed potato and orange balsamic.
Though grilled salmon isn’t that difficult to prepare, if it isn’t cooked properly it can end in tears. This salmon, though, was grilled perfectly. The fillet was succulent and retained its moisture inside while the skin was crispy.
The nice spring weather has encouraged many people to head outdoors. And so, a few days ago, I found myself back at the restaurant with a bunch of friends, where we picked a table outside to take in the bright sunshine while indulging our taste buds with some more of its delectable dishes. VNS
Lê Art Café Wine Bistro
Address: 66 Nguyễn Thái Học Street (within the Việt Nam Museum of Fine Arts)
Tel: 035 365 5866
Comments: Great outdoor seating overlooking the museum’s front yard. An extensive menu featuring several flavourful dishes that could tickle anyone’s taste buds. You can order from the a-la-carte menu or select one of the three-course “The Chef’s Table” set menus, priced from VNĐ350,000 to VNĐ499,000.