Didier Corlou is known as the Mad Hatter chef of Hanoi. The French expat’s passion for Vietnamese food and products is tangible at his celebrated restaurant La Verticale, housed in a 1930s villa. Corlou, who has been in Vietnam since 1991 (he was the head chef at the Metropole Sofitel for fourteen years), is known for creative dishes that boldly mix and match French, Vietnamese and a slew of other influences. Says one Indagare insider who recently ate there: “We had no less than a twelve-course tasting menu, and each was a marvel, with things you would normally not pair. It is very French-Vietnamese fusion.” Don’t miss the Spices boutique on the ground floor, where you can buy some of Corlou’s fabulous concoctions, like fresh coriander seeds in salted water, nuoc mam (fish sauce) salt and pho soup seasoning, consisting of anise, cinnamon, ginger and black cardamom. The wine list is one of the best in the city. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
Indagare member Pamela Murdock recommends these restaurants for authentic food and great atmosphere: Emperor (18B Le Thanh Tong; 84-4-3826-8801), Bobby Chinn (77 Xuan Dieu; 84-4-3719 2460), Dac Kim (1 Pho Hang Manh; 84-4-3828-5022) and Indochine (32 Pham Ngoc Thac Street; 84-4-3823-9256).
Says Indagare Insider Gayle Warwick: “This is in the Metropole Sofitel and serves particularly good Vietnamese food. The lunch buffet is a good way to sample a variety of local dishes.”
The younger, sexier sister of Wild Rice, Wild Lotus opened in 2004 in a multilevel colonial villa that was transformed into an Asian-chic dining venue. The entrance is framed by a dramatically lit lotus ponds and the decor of the dining rooms, spread across two upper floors, boldly mixes countries and periods, from Buddha sculptures and Balinese furnishings to lacquer accents and contemporary Vietnamese art. While Wild Rice focuses on upscale interpretations of Vietnamese cuisine, Wild Lotus features dishes that draw inspiration from across Southeast Asia. The lounge on the top floor is a groovy place for predinner cocktails; large parties should book one of the exquisite dining rooms on the second floor, whose walls are hand-painted with lotus blossoms.
The first eatery in Trinh Hanh’s mini empire (she also co-owns Wild Lotus and Ginger), Wild Rice opened in 2002 and was an overnight sensation. Located in a restored villa not far from the Metropole Sofitel, it has gorgeous interiors replete with tiled floors, a dark-wood staircase and Art Deco French doors. Thanks to the owners’ shared passion for contemporary art, the many dining rooms contain striking works by such artists as Nguyen Thong. The menu is upscale Vietnamese, including original interpretations of the traditional spring roll and grilled tuna on banana leaf. All the dishes are delicious and offer a glimpse into the country’s immensely rich culinary heritage in a refined and beautiful setting. If you come with a group, request one of the private dining rooms upstairs.