Twin cabbage leaves camouflage a hearty pork filling, the two rolls lying side by side on a bed of crunchy hoa thien ly buds. The plating is elegant without being too calculated: thick swipes of black olive sauce, a careful tower of mashed sweet potato. Chou farci isn’t the kind of dish you see every day in Hanoi, but scraping the last drops of sauce from the plate, you might wish it appeared more frequently.
‘A la folie’ refers to a mad passion, and that phrase seems to have informed the restaurant’s enthusiastic approach to modern French cuisine. Dishes that you might know as heavy and creamy are given a lighter, modern spin that fits Vietnam’s tropical climate, including the addition of local ingredients. Many of the dishes, like the chou farci, are improvised riffs on these traditional recipes.
Owned by Vietnamese chef Duy Duc Luy and his friend Jean Sebastien Dang, as well as Stan Boissau, the man behind Chim Sao, which is located next door, just as at Chim Sao, the emphasis is on offering food that’s both affordable and authentic. But where Chim Sao serves up Vietnamese dishes, A La Folie takes on French fare, offering a VND250,000, three-course set menu that’s an ideal way to get a sense of the restaurant’s style.
The downstairs room has a high communal table, ideal for sharing a charcuterie plate or glass of wine from the thorough selection, which offers a good idea of the range of French wines at reasonable prices. Upstairs there’s a more formal sit-down space ideal for a cool lunch or relaxing dinner. Glancing out the window offers an insider’s view into the back side of this quiet alley: low tiled rooftops, wooden shutters cracked open to let in any potential breeze. The room has a comfortable, easygoing vibe with thick tables, aged plank floors and linen settings in rustic earth tones, although the crinkly bouquets of fake flowers at each table clash with the down-to-earth decor.
On this hot afternoon, grilled capsicum, eggplant and tomato confit salad make an ideal starter. Fresh greens came garnished with grilled vegetables, dressed in a snappy mustard vinaigrette — although half as much dressing would certainly have been enough. At least the surplus vinaigrette that pooled uncomfortably on lettuce leaves made a decent dip for thick slices of baguette. Purchased from a Vietnamese bakery that the restaurant has an exclusive agreement with, it’s one of the best in Hanoi, with a crackly crust and delicate interior.
Light and Heavy
As a main course, I opt for that chou farci, a modern update to a hearty French classic. Traditionally, this is an autumn dish, with seasonal harvest ingredients like cabbage, pear and sweet potato signaling that cold weather is nearly here. But the green buds give it a snappy lightness.
While there’s also an a la carte menu with dishes like rack of lamb, steak and foie gras, the set menu is the best way to get a sampling of what the restaurant has to offer. Dishes are balanced, with lighter starters moving to heavier entrees. Portions are well-calculated, so diners leave satisfied but not stuffed.
The service is good, although the waiting staff are still a bit timid. One edges into the room, eying my plate, then progresses gradually closer until finally leaning over to whisper, “Excuse me...are you finished?”
But their timing is impeccable. No sooner is my main course dish removed than a generous wedge of apple tart is set before me, its thick bed of crust topped with solid layers of apple and custard. ‘Folie’ literally means madness. Maybe that’s what affects me between bites of the tart.
I consider coming back for dinner.
A la Folie is at 63 Ngo Hue, Hai Ba Trung, Hanoi. Tel: (04) 3976 1667
Food, Decor and Service are each rated on a scale of 0 to 15.
13 — 15 extraordinary to perfection
10 — 12.5 very good to excellent
8 — 9.5 good to very good
5 — 7.5 fair to good
0 — 4.5 poor to fair
The Word reviews anonymously and pays for all meals