When people ask me where to go for a nice western dinner in Hanoi, I’ll rattle off the usual list of suspects, which usually comes down to a simple question: steakhouse or French-influenced fare? French Grill straddles both genres. You don’t have to decide what you’re going to eat until you’re seated on smooth leather banquettes, sipping a cocktail and tearing off thick hunks of crusty bread.
Located in the outlying district of My Dinh, French Grill isn’t exactly in the centre of town, but the effect when you pull up to the architecturally ambitious JW Marriott makes up for the long drive. As my dining companion put it: “These days, you have to get out of Hanoi to build something beautiful.”
A Table for Two
Bringing company proved to be a good idea: the modest appetizer, main course and dessert combination I ordered easily satisfied both of our (American-sized) appetites. We started with flambeed lobster Caesar salad (VND500,000), and flambeed it was: a cart was rolled over to our table so that we could watch the cooking process. After mixing the salad, the server ceremoniously poured butter into a small pan and set the lobster aflame. While the portion was small, the generous amount of creamy dressing made the salad surprisingly filling. Volume-wise, there was probably as much dressing as lettuce, although that crusty bread and a light, beachy French 75 cocktail (VND225,000) went a long way towards cutting the richness.
The restaurant offers both traditional French-style dishes and lighter grilled options. We opted for Australian tenderloin (VND500,000). While the steak proved to be tasty but unexceptional, the presentation was yet again superb. The kitchen thoughtfully pre-divided the steak for sharing, a nice touch as steak can be particularly cumbersome to share — especially at the tables here. So vast are they that you realise space is certainly not at a premium in this restaurant.
The accompaniments were also on point: a clove of buttery roasted garlic still in the husk (included) and perfectly golden, crispy fries (VND80,000). The server recommended morel mushroom sauce, however we felt a far better mushroom fix was the side dish of wild mushrooms (VND80,000), sauteed in butter and flecked with herbs and sea salt.
Desserts are listed on a chalkboard, but — perhaps to spare the servers having to go through them — the chef has created an option that should be on every dessert menu ever: the Grand Dessert (VND250,000). Conveniently priced at the same level as the other desserts, it offers a sample of everything. Lined up along a narrow tray were a melting puddle of warm chocolate ganache, a pillow-like baba rhum and a miniature jar of minced pear simmered in red wine sauce. The careful array was bordered with two generous scoops of ice cream in vanilla and pistachio.
Not only is presentation carefully considered, but the service is five-star. This is not to say that mistakes are not made. But when they are, they are immediately and solicitously rectified. When a cocktail arrived late, the server vociferously apologised; when the lobster flambeeing cart was a bit awkwardly placed, it was wheeled closer to our table. A glass shaker of finishing salt inside a burlap pouch came tucked into the bill. These are the little touches that on occasion foreigners miss, and what makes French Grill worth the expense and the journey out to My Dinh.
It’s also worth it for the view. Vast glass windows offer a glimpse into the city’s future. Gazing out at the twinkling lights and growing array of tall buildings, you can see Hanoi making its way towards becoming a modern Asian city.
French Grill is in the JW Marriott at 8, Do Duc Duc, Me Tri, Tu Liem, Hanoi. Tel: (04) 3833 5588
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