Fusion was a trend amongst French restaurants in Hanoi in the 2000s. The French dishes were prepared meticulously in the spirit of French cuisine whilst using the fresh local ingredients of the colorful hectic markets of Hanoi, coupled with the spices of different regions of Vietnam. The pioneer of this trend was no other than Didier Corlou of La Verticale. Stepping into the white French Colonial ｃVilla on a rainy day, I thought I was in the wrong place. I didn’t see rows of tables lined with impeccably white table cloths. Instead, I found a spice stalls with different bottles and containers like the chinese medicine store in the old days, conjuring a feeling of nostalgia. Only when I finally ascended up the stairs to the floor above did I find a typical French gastronomic ambiance. I like this room for its high ceilings and simple classic details. The only setback was the lack of light and the overpowering gold hue that affected my experience here.
There weren’t many choices in La Verticale’s menu. If you come here in a group of 3 or 4, you can easily taste every single item on the menu. However, the restaurant regularly rotates their menu as the seasons change. The wine list boasts a fairly wide range of choices from old world wine to new world wine, separated by flavor profile so diners can easily pick one that fits their meals. In true fine dining fashion, the restaurant also offers amuse bouche and palate cleansers in between course.
The dishes at La Verticale seem to be complex-for-the-sake-of-being-complex. I was quite confused when Sea Frangrance arrives, because there were three separated dishes on the plate. The first part, oyster baked with almond, was simple but delicious because it retained the natural flavor of oyster but still had the textural contrast between soft oyster and crunchy almond. The second part, scallop tartare with “ngổ”. Ngổ is an herb that is used in Vietnamese seafood dishes, which fights the fishy flavor while adding the gentle spicy taste. However, the scallop had a freezer small so the dish wasn’t perfect. There was also an ingredient hiccup with the last dish – seared scallop with caviar, which was the worst part of this dish.
Maybe breaking a course in many parts was the chef’s way to showcasing different flavors. But it is a double-edged sword when there is too much going on and the diner loses track of what to focus on. Even a seemingly coherent soup dish like Dalat Green gave me this feeling. The performance of mixing the cold soup in the shaker was fun to watch but I can’t view the Nicoise-salad-turned-soup dish as a success. The dish was too inundated with components of different textures and flavors, it was a confusing mess.
Dalat Green soup
The main courses were better than the appetizers. There were creativity and east-west fusion without lack of focus. The Cod Fish and The Farmer Pork were two of my favorites. The cod fish was beautifully wrapped in layers of banana leaves amidst fragrant tea smoke. The fish was cooked to perfection, moist and soft, coupled with sweet and sour tamarind sauce. The farmer pork was rustic and contrasting. Crispy roast pork belly scented with “mac khen” seed, goes perfectly well with mashed pumpkin.
My favorite part about the dessert courses of Didier Corlou restaurants was the homemade ice-cream. Didier Corlou knows his strength and adds it to every one of his dessert dishes. However, only one of them truly compelled me: Chocolate. Chocolate cake was done so well, perfect chocolate-to-flour proportion, gentle bitterness so pleasing to the palate. Accompanying it was cinnamon ice-cream – the perfect companion for the heat contrasts beautifully with the cold creamy ice-cream while its scent compliments well with chocolate.
I like surprises when I go through a new dining experience, but not every unusual combination works and to be honest, I was not completely pleased with the meal here. For a chef with such a depth of knowledge and experience with using Vietnamese spices, hopefully there will be positive changes to this famed destination in Hanoi.
Soure: La verticale resstaurant