So, when Cyprien arrived in Hanoi seven years ago to work for a gourmet food and wine distributor, he quickly realized something was missing. “There was a lot of French food but no gastro pubs that served the things I loved eating in Europe,” he says.
And when his cousin, Maya, visited from Shanghai, they decided they needed to do something about it. They went into business and started Hanoi’s newest European gastro pub.
Only a few months later and the self-titled eatery, located on a quiet corner of Quang Ba, is now one of Tay Ho’s most beloved weekend venues. Even from the street, it’s impossible not to notice the sunny courtyard buzzing with expats tucking into plates of homemade Gruyère-stuffed ravioli (VND180,000) and swirling glasses of chilled French rosé.
“We really wanted to focus on quality by using top-notch ingredients,” says Cyprien, or ‘Cyp’ as he prefers to be known. “But we don’t pretend to do fine dining. We’re a very laid back gastro pub with a focus on good European food.”
That focus has been translated into a balanced menu of pastas, salads and soups, with plenty of room for gourmet favourites like salmon tartar (VND130,000) and hearty meat dishes. The rustic, unpretentious décor also oozes an effortlessly cool vibe, like you’d expect from a place in Marseille or Melbourne.
The restaurant uses trained KOTO graduates to dish up its colourful fare alongside a generous selection of imported European wines and — as you might have guessed — cheese.
Cousin Maya insists that it is her 15 years in project management and Cyp’s stern eye for quality that has helped the restaurant function like a well-oiled machine.
The emphasis on quality is evident from my very first bite of fresh bread smeared with generous spoonfuls of olive tapenade (VND60,000). The concoction, made from green olives, capers, chilli and anchovies, is a burst of unapologetically bitey flavours that instantly whet the appetite.
Our second starter of calamari and mango bruschetta (VND75,000) is another knock-out, with the lumps of fresh squid providing a surprisingly good match for the diced mango.
The stand-out starter, however, is Cousins’ glorious falafel served with a mint yoghurt sauce (VND50,000). As I carve my knife through the firm golden shell, a gush of steam erupts from the centre. Each golden piece is perfectly cooked: crisp on the outside, moist on the inside and with a strong helping of spices.
As the smiling waitress dutifully carries over my plate of beef cheek ragu pasta (VND150,000), Cyp tells me that it has been painstakingly prepared in red wine for 12 hours. I nod and hold the plate up to my face to bask in the rich aromas of red wine and ribbons of collapsed beef. Each piece of meat is tender, while the hearty flavours of the sauce soak their way into the homemade pasta.
By the time my fork makes its final twirl, the finale — a sumptuous bread and butter pudding with salted caramel ice cream (VND80,000) — is hovering towards us. My already full stomach makes an enthusiastic jump at the sight of the spongy pudding dotted with black flecks of vanilla bean and drizzled with caramel sauce.
My face awash with caramel custard, I gulp down the final dregs of my rosé (VND100,000 per glass) imported from southern France and feel pangs of remorse for things I didn’t get to try, like the pecorino and almond pesto pasta (VND125,000) or the mango crème brulee (VND65,000).
But then again, I guess there’s always next weekend. — David Mann
Cousins is at 3 Quang Ba, Tay Ho, Hanoi