Hanoi’s French legacy is most visible in the city’s adoption of café culture. The best vantage point is one of the cafés along Hang Hanh, a lively street near Hoan Kiem Lake where young Vietnamese come to hang out. Here are some of the best:
57 Ly Thai, Hanoi (00 84 4 825 7807). A popular upmarket café that claims to brew Hanoi’s best coffee. Live jazz on Tuesdays and Thursdays, 5.30pm to 7.30pm, and Sundays, 9pm to 10pm.
FANNY’S ICE CREAM
48 Le Thai To, Hanoi (00 84 4 828 5689). An arty French-owned ice cream parlour serving upmarket ice-cream (in the most original flavours in Hanoi), sorbets and desserts beside Hoan Kiem Lake.
KINH DO CAFE
252 Hang Bong, Hanoi. This café achieved legendary status when Catherine Deneuve famously complimented the owner on his yoghurts and fresh pastries, which are still very good. It is popular with locals and visitors alike.
32 Dien Bien Phu street. A popular, funky little cafe perfectly placed between Hanoi’s War Museum and the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.
89 Ma May street, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi. Cafe Nola is a well hidden sanctuary of calm at the centre of the tourist area in Hanoi’s old quarter. Cafe Nola’s open and airy with an original old quarter courtyard. It’s set across multiple rooms with indoor and outdoor seating and has an open rooftop.
Although Hanoi cannot yet compare with the sophistication of Ho Chi Minh City, it boasts an increasing amount of top-quality restaurants, mostly found around Hoan Kiem Lake and in the French Quarter.
48 Hang Be street. Green Tangerine’s inviting open courtyard is a welcome oasis from the bustling Old Quarter and a magnet for weary travellers. This is one of the most appealing spaces in the whole city. The French cuisine (with some add-ons) is good but a few notches back from the city’s best
5 Hang Tre street, Hoan Kiem dist. Highway 4 is an old Hanoi favourite that’s lost some of its ramshackle edge in recent years. Still a dependable stop for northern Vietnamese flavours and a spot of exotic Vietnamese liquor.
3b Cha Ca Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi (00 84 4 8288 588). Excellent food makes up for the uninspiring décor in this restaurant which caters to Hanoi’s Thai community. Try the fish in coconut and chilli or the Thai noodles.
1 Ba Trieu Street, Hanoi. At the high end of Ho Chi Minh City’s restaurant world, owned by the eponymous celebrity chef, Bobby Chinn’s is packed with expats and visitors. Sit by the windows for great views over Hoan Kiem Lake, and sample the organic Vietnamese dishes. Light-hearted and thoroughly researched, the menu reflects the owner’s personality: if you’re lucky, he will sit at your table and offer an irreverent commentary on local goings-on.
CHA CA LA VONG
14 Cha Ca Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi. Cha Ca, or fried fish, is the only dish that you will find on the menu in this historic restaurant. The food is tasty and well presented, and cheap.
59 Ly Thai To, Hanoi. It is worth splashing out for a more refined dining experience without breaking the bank at this upscale Vietnamese eatery. Try the grilled fish with dill.
COM CHAY NANG TAM
79a Tran Hung Dao, Hanoi. Small, elegant vegetarian restaurant down a quiet alleyway off Tran Hung Dao and named after a character in a Vietnamese fairy tale. Goi bo, a main-course salad of banana flower, starfruit and pineapple is good.
18b Le Thanh Tong, Hanoi. If you don’t get a chance to make it to the imperial city of Hué (some 500 km away), Hanoi’s most beautiful restaurant, Emperor is a shrine to Hué’s specialities.
28 Ha Hoi Street, Hanoi (00 84 4 942 4448; www.hoasuaschool.com). A restaurant school run by an NGO for disadvantage children, Hoa Sua serves excellently presented food with a heavy French influence served on a delightful garden patio or in an airy dining room. Reserve to sit outside at lunch-time. Try the superb desserts.
59 Van Mieu Street, Hanoi. This non-profit-making restaurant, opened by a Vietnamese-Australian, is run on a rotating 18-month programme that trains street kids to be bilingual chefs and waiters.
QUAN COM PHO
27-29 Le van Huu, Hanoi. Quan com Pho might tempt the culinary maverick (the menu features sautéed pig’s kidney, chicken testicles and snake head with green pepper), but the cautious may prefer to opt for tiger prawns in tamarind, beef with green chilli or tofu with black pepper and spring rolls.
6 Ngo Thi Nham, Hanoi. The city’s current hot spot: take a seat in the glass-walled area at the back and order the fish stew with coconut milk and morning glory sautéed with garlic.
15 Chan Cam street, Hoan Kiem. Madame Hien’s French colonial villa is definitely one of Hanoi’s most visually impressive restaurant settings. And the food’s good too, focus on traditional Vietnamese cuisine – the kind of dishes you’d be served as a guest at a Hanoian home. You get a sense there have been some tweaks for the foreign palate