This post pretty much sums up our journey of discovering Italian cuisines in Hanoi during our 2 weeks working together when Erik was here (and by “work” I mean going to so many restaurants trying new foods and acting like we are food critics, I can’t remember how many times Erik had to remind me “we are not foodies, we are bloggers” so that I stopped acting like what I said is going to be quoted on food magazines – yeah, I tend to do that!).
So we have been to a couple of different Italian places, not all but those included some of the very highly recommended ones, but then to us they don’t seem to live up to their reputation as much, and at the end of day, Erik and I found ourselves repeatedly telling each other: “Well, at least the pictures were good!”. And here goes the journey:
First try, we were told by a friend that Luna d’Autunno is the best pizza place in Hanoi so we figured we’d give it a try. After reading the reviews of this place we were looking forward to an excellent dining experience which we did not receive. The atmosphere and the service were good but the food left much to be desired.
We had the Parma pizza, Parma ham and Parmesan cheese and the four cheese ravioli.
Our first hint that the food would not be great was when they brought out the bread basket with a few cold slices of baguette, some olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and Parmesan from a can… not a good start for an Italian restaurant.
The pizza came and it was basically just pizza dough with tomato sauce, a little cheese and then long strips of parma ham laid over it with a few pieces of fresh Parmesan on top. The pizza was cut before the parma was put on so had to cut it once again to serve. The ham was not of the best quality nor was the Parmesan and the tomato sauce had little taste besides tomato. We were giving each other that look while shaking our heads; yeah the best pizza place in town somehow disappointed us there.
Next onto the ravioli, the first thing we noticed was the lack of any color, it was just pretty plain on the plate. The next thing we noticed was that the pasta was under cooked and what little sauce was placed over it was rather oily. Then Erik noticed something was missing, this was four cheese ravioli but all he could taste was ricotta cheese in it, where were the other 3 cheeses? Another disappointing dish.
Our dinner didn’t just end there. We decided to give it one more try with the desert. Erik wanted to try the tiramisu as he cannot go to an Italian restaurant and not have the tiramisu, so we ordered a tiramisu and the other desert special: a ricotta cheese and lemon soufflé with a cinnamon sauce. The tiramisu was just that, it was nothing special except it was pretty big for one, (or was that they were giving us a portion of 2?), the taste was just about average and there is not much more to say about it. The soufflé was not that great either and we don’t think a combination of ricotta cheese and lemon would work but had to give it a try.
All in all a disappointing dining experience that cost too much.
The second try, on a chill Sunday we drove out of town to the suburb of Hanoi hoping for some good shots of the rice paddy fields. It was unfortunately a gloomy day for photography, and driving too long on my scooter was pretty much tiring for us, and we were both feeling hungry we planned where to eat way in advance, from about 25 km away from Hanoi I think? Given our first failing experience with Luna d’Antunno a couple of days before we were thinking about giving Italian a second chance, and it was supposed to be a fancy second chance, a dining experience at the Mediterraneo close by the Saint Joseph Church. Mediterraneo has been very famous in Hanoi for its authentic Italian food and we were so much looking forward to a satisfying dinner after such a long drive all day in the chill. When we got back in town I was shivering from the cold, I couldn’t wait to sit down and drink something hot.
We came into the Mediterraneo and asked for a table on the second floor. The place was very crowded and we were happy to find a table for 2 upstairs. They would soon welcome a reserved group of 10 so were moving chairs and tables for the set up so we got a little distracted by the noise. However we soon got served by a nice lady and ordered a platter of ham, homemade cheese and pickled veggies. Erik wanted risotto and so he had that, and I asked the lady what pasta sauce she would recommend for a dish of homemade gnocchi and was suggested the ham and cheese and mushroom in cream sauce, so I had that. Erik had his Italian Peroni beer and I had my hot tea.
While we were waiting for our food to be served they brought us a basket of homemade bread, combining of a bun bread, some flat cracker bread and a oregano stick bread, with olive oil and balsamic vinegar as expected. The bread was warm and crispy and was a great start to a much anticipated good meal we were looking forward to.
And soon came our platter, beautiful looking and despite the hunger we took some decent time to adjust the light and take pictures of the food, and I was just hoping sometimes we were not that dutiful as those goodies were calling out my name, but glad Erik was there to calm me down. The light was quite deem inside the restaurant so we had to pull our phones out for some proper flash lightning, each of us was holding our flash light (phone) above the dish for the other to work on the camera, you could imagine some guests and the 3 waiters at the place were looking at us curiously, they may have thought we were a bit crazy, at that moment right there I wish I pulled out our business card and introduce us properly, I picture I’d say: “We are bloggers at work, and this meal will be featured on our blog – Eating off the Map”, (and followed by :”so you’d better give us good food, and it should be FREE!”) while shaking their hands. Somehow Erik has not agreed with me on the free-meal- part (yet).
When we were finished with the platter which we wish had more cheese on it, cheese yes more cheese, the foods arrived.
The risotto and the gnocchi both looked really good don’t you think? Erik was even not willing to share some of his risotto, that was to tell you how hungry and eager we were to finally lift our forks and dig in. Anyways, both the risotto and gnocchi were undercooked to our opinion, and the ham and cheese and mushroom cream sauce in my gnocchi wasn’t any special to me, just creamy and cheesy but I didn’t smell the mushroom-y flavor of it.
We were pretty full after the platter and the main dish, but still decided to try, of course, their homemade tiramisu. And this tiramisu came out nicely: proper portion in a nice glass, cool and chocolaty and leaving us wanting for more. I bet they have great cakes and dessert here at the Meditarreneo, but we were too full to try anything else.
So the Mediteraneo was better than Luna d’Autunno, yet still wasn’t that satisfying to us when it comes to their main dishes. We’ve heard a lot of good reviews about this place and I’m sure other’s dining experience here could be so much nicer and tasty, just somehow we didn’t have luck with us that second chance for Italian food.
Third try, this was really unexpected. The other night a close friend invited us out for a drink after work, so we drove to the West Lake area of Hanoi, to see our friends at the Red River Tea Room.
This is such a cozy place to be, with Mitchell – the owner being very friendly and passionate in his paper crafting designing; his smiley staff and the juicy lemonade they have.
In addition to that we had a fun night hanging out with good friends and testing each other with various brain teasers. When we thought we were hungry, our friend recommended us to try the Italian place next door, we were a bit hesitant given our 2 other Italian nights, but that was the only choice we had as the other Vietnamese restaurant next door was closed, we figured to give it another try. Since we were not really looking forward to it that much, we quickly made our decision to order a Pepperonis pizza from Cielo. While we were enjoying making paper crafting houses designed by Mitchell, our pizza arrived. And what a nice surprise, the pizza was sooo good!! They made their own pizza dough and it was fresh, with a great amount of cheese and tomato sauce with my all time favorite salami, we were indeed having the best Italian pizza in Hanoi that time, unexpectedly yet so delicious a surprise. (Sorry no pictures for it though)
That Pepperonis was by far the best Italian experience we’ve had in Hanoi, and please make sure you check out the Red River Tea Room and Cielo Restaurant as I’m sure they have so much more to offer rather than just lemonade and Pepperonis pizza.
Happy eating as always!
Hang and Erik.
*Photos of the Red River Tea Room from their site.