Hotel restaurants are strange beasts. In theory a five-star environment with international-standard chefs coupled by top-end prices should result in quality cuisine. It doesn’t always work that way. I’ve had some inspiring meals in this country’s top-end properties — a number remain memorable. I’ve also been disappointed. From the special occasion seafood buffet that left me vowing never again to eat oysters through to the Michelin Chef wine dinner that went wrong, sometimes it just doesn’t click.
So, being asked to write a review of Milan, the Italian restaurant in the InterCon, I had one question in mind. Would the fare here match the environment?
There are a few things that irritate the complaint-disposed waiter. One of them is the arrival of an early customer. At opening time you’re still in set up mode, still trying to prepare for the onslaught to follow. I arrived a few minutes before 6pm but was well-received — a real pleasure — the staff scuttling around to accommodate this ‘difficult’ customer who was determined to be in and out in 45 minutes.
Quickly I settled in, with home-cooked, rustic brown bread and dips for accompaniment. Despite the hotel synthetics typical of the InterCon, this is a nicely set-up dining space. Airy, spacious with framed food images on the walls and rusty effect copper floor tiles, the warm colours provide a nice backdrop to the two open kitchens and brick-built, wood-fired pizza oven that takes centre stage. Provided the dough, sauce and toppings are correct, with such facilities in place it is difficult to go wrong with an Italian-style pizza. So instead I opted for the chef’s speciality dishes that are supposed to emanate from Milan.
I’ve never been a fan of what has become known as International Italian. It’s fine if cooked at home — a Bolognese or a carbonara can work a treat. But if I eat out I prefer the real deal — after all if I dine at an Italian, I want to have the cuisine that is out of range of my own personal cooking prowess.
Topped with a semi-runny poached egg, my starter, the insalata Milano, had the feel of an Italian-style Caesar salad. Replete with bacon bits and parmesan, from the menu the dish was not what I was expecting — the Cos lettuce and the croutons should have been a giveaway. Nonetheless, although the croutons could have done with being freshly deep-fried, the crunch of the Cos, the texture of the egg and the perfectly cooked asparagus tips saved what could have been a disappointment. I’ve only been to Milan (the city) once, so how typical this dish is of the Italian industrial capital of the north is beyond me.
My other dish was also cited as a Milan speciality — the ravioli di pesce. Although slightly on the salty side, the dish was, for want of a better adjective, delicious. I could eat it again and again. Served up with a thick garlic, chilli and fresh basil-based sauce, the ravioli came al dente, with lines of squid ink brushed onto the shell. A nice touch. Stuffed with a rich mash of onion, carrot, squid, crab, scallop and shrimp, this was an astonishingly tasty dish.
After two courses washed down by red wine, my stomach was already close to bursting, so I opted against a dessert. But there was enough here to make me want to return for a second and even a third visit. Prices, for the five-star environment, are also surprisingly reasonable. Most of the dishes are between VND200,000 and VND250,000, while the medium margharita is only VND150,000. Which suggests that the team behind this hotel Italian are trying to compete with the local market. And from my little taster, they’ve got all the ingredients to stage a good fight.
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