Sunday, July 21, 2013

Hanoi Food Challenge #2 - Day One

 photo HanoiFoodChallengeButton.pngYesterday was Day One of my Hanoi Food Challenge Number Two, and what a great start!

First of all, this time I have a friend tagging along. Christine felt like she was in a food rut, just like me, so she's coming to every meal too. I told her that I was going to go to many places by bicycle, so she would have to get hers fixed if she wanted to come too. The added advantage is that now she's discovered the freedom and joy (and the terror, I suppose!) of riding a bicycle in this lovely city, so I have a new riding buddy!

As I mentioned in my first Hanoi Food Challenge, I often only eat two meals on weekend days, because I sleep in late and thus it's kind of a brunch and then dinner. On Saturday when I finally called Christine to arrange meeting for our meal, I discovered she had already ridden her bike halfway around the lake and was sitting having a tea and reading her book. I went and picked her up, and we continued to ride to a place that was recommended by a coworker, Tet Decor Cafe.

We didn't really know what to expect from this place, and were slightly put off by the fact that the road was being dug up and we had to walk our bikes through the mucky dirt road and over piles of gravel to get to it. However, that's not the fault of the cafe, which is set inside a beautiful big house, and even the outside is gorgeous, with bamboo lining the inner stone walls of the yard.

Inside, it's decorated in wood and all kinds of things from hill tribe villages in the North of Vietnam. So far, it's just one floor and only a few tables, but they said they're working on the second floor, and it should be ready in a couple of months.

The menu was quite enticing, with lots of very delicious and healthy-sounding fruit and vegetable juices, which meant it took me ages to decide on my "Spring Boost" which was pineapple, lychee, mint, and lime, and absolutely yummy and refreshing. Christine had a vegetable juice with beetroot and I can't remember what else in it. There was also a good selection of tea and coffee, so I had a pot of Earl Grey tea, which looked enormous but actually was only about 2 cups worth.

There's also all-day breakfast and a good selection of salads and sandwiches, with quite a few vegetarian options. I had the french toast, which came with caramelized banana, honey, passion fruit, and bacon. This was really good, but the french toast was made with that terrible Asian white bread, which tasted nice, but when I saw Christine's lovely multigrain toast I wished it had been made with that instead. I would rather have that, and less of it, than what I had. But hey, that's a pretty minor complaint!

Christine can't wait to tuck in!

Christine had baked eggs with spinach, tomato, and mushroom, which she said was lovely but a little on the dry side. It helped when she poured the tomato sauce (not ketchup, but actual tomato sauce) over it.

This place also has a good selection of gluten-free baked goods, if that's what you're after.

This cafe was utterly charming in every way, from the friendly staff to the beautiful decor, as well as the great menu with everything fresh, home-made, and locally sourced. It's actually part of a bigger organisation, the Tet Lifestyle Collection, which includes restaurants and hotels in Hanoi, Hoi An, and Sapa. Based on my experience here in Hanoi, I would not hesitate to visit any one of them!

For dinner, we had to do something special because it was Christine's birthday! She chose to have a few of us join her at Bluebird Restaurant. This place is quite new, and you may remember about a year ago I wrote about a wine tasting we went to. Well, as happens to many establishments in Asia, that place went out of business and was replaced by this one.

We started off by just barely getting in our happy hour orders for two for one glasses of wine! Lucky!
Then we ordered starters to share, which were sea bass ceviche with taro chips and salt and pepper calamari. Both were really lovely, but I preferred the calamari.

Christine ordered the Crispy Pork Belly, which was roasted with five spice and served with colcannon mash, asparagus, and a pomegranate glaze that was absolutely divine.

Sandy had chicken schnitzel, which she said was nice, although it didn't look all that special to me!

The other three of us had Atlantic Salmon, with fennel salsa, mash, spinach, and beurre blanc. It was perfect, with crispy skin and flavours that worked perfectly together.

For dessert, I had made Christine a birthday cake, and when I asked them to get it, the staff took it upon themselves to put a candle in it and present it while singing Happy Birthday. It was quite sweet, really, because I feel like everywhere else I've always been just given the cake just as I gave it to them, still wrapped up in containers and plastic. I'll post more about the cake in the future, as that's more about my baking than about the restaurant!

We were also offered an after-dinner drink on the house, in honour of Christine's birthday, which was also really sweet of them.

Bluebird was a fantastic dining experience, and I cannot fault anything. The food was delicious, service attentive but not overbearing, and the only thing that struck me strange was that there were not more people there on a Saturday night! Perhaps it's because it seems quite upscale from the outside, but the prices were really not much different from St. Honore two doors down, which does a booming business. I'm really hoping word gets out about Bluebird so it will stick around, because I want to go back!

FYI, if you're in Hanoi, you can order online from Bluebird from or vietnammm

 So that was Day One of my second Hanoi Food Challenge. I have to say, it set the bar pretty high! Check back for more tomorrow!

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