Whether it is business, adventure or romance that brings you to Hanoi, La Badiane provides that calm eye in the hurricane of Hanoi energy that you seek – with food flavors on par with five star restaurants from the likes of Paris, Rome, New York and other top tier food havens.
From tourist center Hoan Kiem Lake, it’s about a half hour walk weaving between ubiquitous motor scooters to the unassuming street, replete with street food and merchandise vendors, where La Badiane makes its home.
Or, if you want to spare yourself the thrill or dread of being a Hanoi pedestrian, there are many rickshaw drivers or taxis to get you there in about ten minutes.
Other than the sign peeking above the row of parked scooters, there is nothing from the street view that suggests the charm of La Badiane’s surrounds.
Walk into the plant-adorned entranceway and you begin to feel your transport into another world – an elegant world—where the simple uncluttered design with lights of bright reds on table tops welcome you.
It is no wonder that La Badiane has become a favorite of the growing community of expat Westerners as well as drawing many upscale Vietnamese natives as well.
There is nothing about La Badiane’s cuisine that suggests it is watered down with an eye to appealing to the imagined dull palate of the typical tourist. That said, it should be noted that the restaurant was chosen by TripAdvisor as one of the world’s best in 2013.
La Badiane’s cuisine is described as “world fusion”, but the French origins of the chef, Benjamin Rascalou, are apparent from soup to nuts.
So too are the fresh ingredients from the Vietnam locale that you find in every dish. That said, expect pesto, expect feta cheese, sumptuous chocolates and more.
As any traveler to Hanoi knows, it is sometimes difficult to find good wine in Vietnamese restaurants, even relatively upscale ones. Warning: wines from Dalat are barely recognizable as wine for regular wine drinkers. There was no Dalat wine at La Badiane—a solid sign that it is safe to explore the wine list. At both a lunch and dinner sampling of La Badiane, we sampled four excellent white wines—served both by glass or bottle.
If you have several occasions to visit La Badiane, this is clearly a wine menu worth exploring.
Our first and perhaps favorite dish of the evening was “Rémoulade de crabe à l’huile essentielle de gingembre, carpaccio de betteraves & asperges de Dalat”. This was clearly the very fresh and delicious crab of Vietnam. It was augmented with the crunch of a sesame cracker, a touch of dill, some cilantro. The very fine chop of crab pieces and the razor thinness of the beet slices speaks to the care that goes into every dish. The mayonnaise aspect of the remoulade was barely noticeable. Rather, the predominant taste was the freshness of the crab. Excellent!
Next up was “Tambourins d’aubergines grille au fromage de chèvre, jambon de Parme & pesto balsamique” (grilled eggplants & goat cheese rolled in Parma ham, pesto and balsamic sauce). What struck us first was how creamy the goat cheese was and the sweetness of the balsamic vinegar. Clearly the best ingredients are being used.
For our first entrée we enjoyed “Souris d’agneau rôtie, pommes-noisettes feta-tomate, fèves à la tapenade, jus d’agneau au romain” (Roasted lamb shank, pan-fried potatoes stuffed with feta, beans in black olives, rosemary gravy). The “secret sauce”, so to speak, was clearly the tamarind rosemary sauce that made the already succulent meat quite savory and sweet at once, a winning combination that one finds in much of the most delicious Vietnamese fare.
The chef then regaled us with a special treat of tender beef pieces cooked to look well-done on the outside and rare within, in which he demonstrated artfully how the temperature of the food bears heavily on how the palate receives it. Although in his comments to us the chef tended to downplay the degree to which technique matters, clearly technique—whether handling meat or fine mincing tomato pieces for a lunch menu item—is clearly at work.
What matters to Chef Rascalou most is creativity, of which he clearly has ample supply and which he defines as THE motor for his art. He was only 15 when his life course to become a chef was determined. He worked and studied with many renown chefs in France before moving to Vietnam twelve years ago.
Rascalou explains, “My objective—what I have always wanted to do—is something original….You have to have a good team and you need good technique and focus on quality. But if you aren’t really working for yourself and making what you want to make you cannot do this right…I teach my team members everything I know—all the details of how to do it right. All our chefs are also free to innovate…We love what we do and find pleasure in it and we want everyone to say “This is good food’. You have to be technically good, but it is creativity that makes the difference.”
If you love Vietnamese food, which is so easy to do, it may seem like an unnecessary detour to seek out a French inspired fusion menu after going such a long way to get to Hanoi. Know that you’d seek out this restaurant in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Seoul or any European capital. This is world class food.
One warning--SAVE ROOM FOR DESSERT. The chocolate dessert we sampled had exquisite hazelnut touches and a mix of textures that added to its burst of chocolate flavor.
Open for lunch and dinner, La Badiane accepts reservations.
Monday through Saturday—
Lunch (including Set Lunch menu) – 11:30 – 2:30
Dinner – 6:30 – 10:30
10 Nam Ngu Street, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi, Vietnam
Tel: +84 (4) 39 42 45 09
Photos: Peter Kachergis unless otherwise indicated