From here, looking out over Hoan Kiem Lake, it seems that the conductor of this sprawling, free-jazz orchestra has told the players to take five. With Ngoc Son Temple and Turtle Tower mirrored in the shimmering water, Hanoi looks positively serene.
Of course, this place is much more than just its view, although that alone warrants a laundry list of superlatives. The décor, too, has a certain Zen flow to it, and transmits a sense of time recaptured from the past through its antique fans, distressed French shutters and the vintage uniforms of the waiting staff. Even the leather-bound menu opens with the words, ‘An invitation to the past’.
A Modern Twist
Open less than a year, this Cau Go, meaning wooden bridge, has already jumped from #31 to #7 on Trip Advisor, and it’s easy to see why. Head chef Dao Thi Bay, who cut her teeth for about 20 years in Ho Chi Minh City, takes a contemporary approach to traditional Vietnamese cuisine, and does so with an artistic flourish present in every dish.
The extensive menu takes a tour of the country’s specialities. A Saigon favourite, mustard leaves rolled with shrimp and pork (VND100,000), is tied with the leaf of a spring onion like a lovingly-made Christmas gift, and comes with a sweet and sour dipping sauce. The crunch of the carrot, cucumber, and lotus root inside the parcel is given substance by the butterflied shrimp resting on top, while the mustard leaf itself releases a subtle and satisfying afterglow.
The friendly staff, who remove themselves to a discreet distance, are nevertheless alert and attentive — there is no roaring “Em oi!” here, thankfully. It’s all very civilised. My waiter suggested two of the chef’s specials, seabass with passion fruit sauce (VND120,000), and tofu deep-fried with lemongrass and chilli (VND90,000).
Passion Fruit and Thirst Quenchers
The battered seabass had a crisp exterior, which was softened by a sweet and spicy passion fruit sauce that became more and more viscous as it cooled. Although one of the pieces of fish was slightly dry from sitting a few seconds too long in the hot oil, the joy of licking that honey-thick sauce from my lips was such delicious fun I could order it again and again.
The homemade tofu, which the waiter seemed particularly proud of, was without doubt the most delicate I’ve ever tasted. Golden brown and heaped with dry-fried lemongrass and chilli, these melt-in-your-mouth cubes of joy are a must for tofu-lovers.
Although there was no chocolatey option on the menu, this was more than made up for by the wide selection of cocktails. Of these, the Cau Go pho quencher (VND120,000) stood out. Made from gin, Cointreau, coriander, cinnamon, lime, anise and cardamom, this unusual concoction is all of Vietnam in a glass.
With the distant sounds of the players riffing wildly down below and calling you back to the present, this oasis is hard to leave. But when you do, you can take up your place in the orchestra once more feeling rejuvenated. — Dara O Foghlu
Cau Go Vietnamese Cuisine is at Floor 5 & 6, 7 Dinh Tien Hoang, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi