Review: Is Etesia Hanoi’s Trendiest Restaurant?

There are a few things to know about Etesia a.k.a. Hanoi’s trendiest restaurant. Firstly, its modern-French cuisine is first-rate and that’s no surprise seeing it’s helmed by French chef Benjamin Morelle who cut his teeth at a 1-star Michelin restaurant in Paris. Secondly, it’s located on Lo Su street which is located right in the heart of Hanoi’s bustling business district and at the frontier of Hanoi’s famous Old Quarter. Last but not least, Etesia is also the lovechild of Polite & Co, a much-loved cocktail bar (and one of the first cocktail bars) in Hanoi. Etesia’s 18-seat chef counter (Source: Etesia) In saying all of this, I have high hopes for Etesia and boy am I not disappointed. Enter Etesia and you’re greeted with low-hanging rattan lights, playful pink walls, rows of wine that adorn its walls and an 18-seat open counter (one of Vietnam’s longest counter dining tables) where Chef Benjamin calls the shots. In addition to having one of the longest chef counters, it also boasts one of the most comprehensive wine lists in Hanoi with more than 350 different types of wine from all over the world with 30 different wines being offered by the glass. The restaurant is full on a Tuesday evening and the music is bumping, the energy is pulsing and the whole atmosphere is infectious and filled with a cacophony of delectable smells, sounds and scenes mostly coming from behind the restaurant’s open kitchen. Executive Chef Benjamin Morelle who cut his teeth at 1-star Michelin restaurant in Paris (Source: Etesia) Etesia brings to the table what Chef Benjamin dubs a “contemporary take on European cuisine with a creative twist”. It’s interesting to note this also transcends into dining style where a tapas-esque concept is adopted at Etesia, which makes it perfect for sharing. While mainly drawing on the French techniques that have informed Chef Benjamin’s French-grounded career so far, Morelle abstains from leaning too far into French haute cuisine and instead borrows influence from Asian cuisine. Frog legs with spicy aioli and parsley butter (180,000 VND) Although frog legs have been considered a delicacy in France since time immemorial, my relationship with them is one deeply-rooted in Chinese cuisine. So when Morelle presented his version of frog legs on a bed of thick, creamy and spicy aioli topped with parsley butter, I was slightly skeptical. Needless to say, I was very quickly proven wrong. The grilled frog legs exude a transcendental smokiness which perfectly complements the garlic aioli and when topped with the smooth sweetness of the parsley butter, let’s just say the execution of this dish was so compelling and moreish, it left me on the edge of my seat hankering for more. I seldom rave about snacks but this one was ‘finger lickin good’ and definitely did its job to stir up my appetite and ready my palate for the next course. Perfect egg with hay smoked cauliflower cream, foie gras, croutons and Bottarga caviar (290,000 VND) Think black truffle shavings married with chunks of decadent foie gras paired with the creaminess of a hay-smoked cauliflower cream and that’s what you get with this dish – a spoonful of rich savoury indulgence. And if that’s not enough, it’s topped with Bottarga caviar and well, the perfect moon-shaped golden egg yolk which adds an additional layer of bold richness to this dish. While this dish might sound heavy on the palate, the simplicity and lightness of the cauliflower not only enhances but also balances its savoury accompaniments making this dish a menu standout worth returning back for. Charred cauliflower atop a bed of garlic puree and fermented chilli and finished with coriander Morelle’s Vietnamese basil-infused crab bisque makes its entrance as a finishing pour in the ensuing Lang fish course. While I am a big fan of lobsters (especially in a bisque), I welcome Morelle’s locally-sourced steamed and later torched replacement i.e. the popular Vietnamese Lang fish, in his version of the notable French dish. While simple yet plain in sight, the chunky bites of fish when paired with the richness of the sauce and bed of risotto rice and balanced with Vietnamese basil has a sweetness and a touch of umami when dressed in the emulsion. Compared to its French counterpart, this dish is aptly light and pays tribute to the lighter textures and cleaner-tasting profiles that usually debut in Asian soups. Perhaps a nod to the region’s more humid and tropical weather…. who’s to know but one thing I do know is Morelle’s execution of this dish is sure to accord it its signature status. Milk rice pudding with caramelised walnuts, salted butter caramel and lime zest (140,000 VND) I indulge in one final act of gluttony and order the milk rice pudding with caramelised walnuts, salted butter caramel and lime zest. Of the three desserts, this is my favourite. Inspired by the traditional Vietnamese rice pudding dessert, Morelle’s take on the dessert is evocatively nostalgic with every spoonful tantamount to a time machine back to my childhood. His rendition is sweet, crunchy yet smooth and creamy all at the same time. As a nod to Vietnamese fare, Morelle’s addition of lime zest adds a much-welcomed touch of freshness to this decadent and delightful finish to the evening. Many plates (and cocktails from the above Bo / en • Cocktail Atelier) later and it’s not hard to imagine why this eclectic Mediterranean addition to Hanoi’s nascent dining scene is buzzing on a Tuesday evening. A feat many can only covet and while Etesia is not currently open at the moment due to the current C-19 restrictions in place, I suggest you to stand by your phone and make that reservation asap because I’m sure it’ll fill up fast once those foodie floodgates open. So to answer the question, is Etesia Hanoi’s trendiest restaurant? Definitely. Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/etesiahanoi Address: 14B Lò Sũ Street, Hoàn Kiếm District, Hà Nội Contact: +84 986 868 042
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