Green Pea Soup

In a city where it’s completely normal to wander winding alleys in search of a restaurant, Il Faro might win the prize for most difficult to find. The new bistro is located in a forbidding-looking hotel complex — Khach San Cong Doan — at the end of To Ngoc Van that doesn’t look like it houses any kind of eatery, much less an elegant Mediterranean restaurant.

 

But follow the tiny signs that point the way, because it’s worth the journey. Guests to Il Faro are greeted with a basket of warm, chewy homemade breadsticks and a seat in what was originally a sterile white room that has been completely transformed into a long-gone Italy. Stiff cushioned chairs surround tables draped in black and white, matching the marble floor. The transparent wine cellar reveals neat rows of Chianti and Syrah. Yet the dining room soundtrack of assorted French, Spanish and Italian ballads hints that despite its name, Il Faro is less Italian than pan-Mediterranean.

 

France, Italy and Back Again

 

The French presence is the most consistent. While Il Faro’s owner, Leo, is Italian — he also runs Mediterraneo on Nha Tho, near St. Joseph’s Cathedral — the chef comes from France. As a result, the menu feels like an international treaty, divided into French-style starters, Italian pastas and hybrid mains. I start out with green pea soup, which is pretty much as classically French as you can get. It arrives in an elegant bowl with a lid, which the server ceremoniously pulls off to reveal a liquid the same vibrant green as the neon pepper grinder. Dotted with cream and garlic croutons, it provides a warm touch of spring on a cold day. 

 


Garganelli

Homemade Garganelli


 

It’s time to make the move to Italy. The pleasingly succinct menu offers just enough options to make you feel like you have a choice, without being overwhelming. I order chewy homemade garganelli (fun fact: the pasta is named after the Latin word for throat, which the egg dough tubes strongly resemble). But even this dish isn’t quite Italian. Rather, it’s an intriguing demonstration of the fact that when it comes to the culinary world, national borders aren’t exactly black and white. Sprawled across a massive square plate (are giant plates back in style?), the pasta tubes and slices of duck are coated in Dijon mustard sauce and covered in a blanket of grated Parmesan and black pepper. The pasta itself is skillfully made, although the chef could have been less aggressive with the salt and pepper. Some bites are rich and flavourful; others feel like I’ve just taken a swallow from a salt-shaker.

 


Chocolate Ganache

Chocolate Ganache


 

The servers are trained and helpful. “Be careful, it’s very hot,” my server says as he places the large place in front of me (indeed, it’s nearly too warm to touch); his face is actually apologetic as he informs me the restaurant is out of tiramisu. I order chocolate ganache with mint leaves, which feels intended more for sharing than for an individual portion. On yet another immense plate, flaky caramel is mounted on three dollops of silky milk chocolate mousse, topped with an elaborate web of spun sugar. The elaborate presentation is completed by a swirl of chocolate sauce. It’s an unexpectedly modernist touch in what otherwise feels like a testament to old-fashioned elegance. 

 

Il Faro is at 98 To Ngoc Van, Villa 3 inside the Cong Doan Hotel Compound. Tel: (04) 6327 1142 

 


The Verdict

 

Food:10

Service:10

Décor:10

 

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

 

Mystery Diner

The Mystery Diner is a person hailing from a country that may or may not be Vietnam. S/he can be seen frequently in the restaurants and cafes of Hanoi and HCMC, searching for the most delicious meals each city has to offer. Look for the masked figure in a cape, lurking in the darkest corners of your neighbourhood com tam or pho joint.

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