Hanoi conjures up many words, but tranquil is only one of them if you were a roadie for Motorhead. This city’s sweat-soaked heart judders and palpitates along at a screeching rate as the 8 million motorbikes swerve and stomp over the streets in a breakneck frenzy. It’s too fast for some and finding those rare moments devoid of tortured motorbike horns, caged animal howls and gibbering hordes is the key to surviving it.
Sure, Ho Chi Minh City is arguably Vietnam’s “Mad Max-esque” alternative, but the interminable stream of tourists and the blood-beating calamity of Hanoi, it’s easy to feel that you’re losing control. If you intend to keep your sanity and aren’t too worried about sobriety, it’s time to start hunting down those secluded retreats from the sheer pace of life.
One such place is Cousins, a French restaurant and bar hiding out in the leafy suburbs of Tay Ho far from the road warriors of downtown Hanoi and further still from the chaos of the Old Quarter.
“This is really part of the charms,” comments Thomas.
Thomas has been managing this branch of Cousins for the past six months now. He commented that almost all the customers he speaks with bring up the splendour of the location. Tucked away under a shaded canopy of greenery and overlooking the West Lake, Thomas added:
“But the sunsets are the best part, by far.”
I nodded in agreement and took stock of just how placid things felt in their vine-wreathed outdoor seating area.
The Great Hanoi Rush
Keeping the peace in such a beautiful little spot hasn’t been simple – in the swirling vortex of Hanoi, things rarely are – but for Cyprien Pierlovisi, the owner of Cousins, things are even further from that sweet simplicity that tends to elude Hanoians. In the last three and a half years, Cyprien has been on the sort of heady ambitious rampage that makes Elon Musk look like a slovenly layabout. He’s somehow found the time in that short span to open five restaurants across Hanoi.
Of course with such dizzying levels of ambition comes the immense pressure of managing numerous fine eateries without compromising on the quality. Thu – assistant manager of the Quang Ba Street branch – has been at it for two and a half years with Cousins.
“Quality is the key,” she explains.
“Maintaining quality service and quality food is tough when there’s so much going on.”
“When you’re serving in such an international area as Tay Ho, you have so many different expectations to meet and so it’s difficult to please everyone.”
Despite having that cosy, intimate feeling that grants the illusion that you’ve escaped the mania of the city – Thu tells me that on their busier days, they’ll serve in excess of a hundred customers all driven by the restaurants alluring reputation.
“Keeping track of all of the tables, communicating with the kitchen, the customers and, of course, Cyprien – it gets hectic!”
Whilst these issues are inherent to running any restaurant, the old school methods they’d been working with had heightened the already stressful workload of the staff as they frantically tried to keep Cousins living up to its name
Space to Breathe
The curse of Hanoi’s pace is that problems have a tendency to snowball, which gain traction and eventually mow you down without mercy if you let them. Cyprien has since sought the support of the Hottab POS system to give him greater control over his growing eatery empire. Through the simplicity of Hottab, Cyprien’s able to remotely access a wealth of data from any of the restaurants at any time. With three branches of Cousins to look after and his Italian venture, CuGiNi, and Amato, a new tapas spot spread across the city, time is a precious commodity and the need for attention to detail is near constant.
Thu explained the benefits for the service side:
“The automation really helps with efficiency, it means we spend less time in the kitchen sorting out orders.”
She highlighted there’s now more time to provide the experience that the customers came in expecting and needless to say expectations are high.
It’s not hard to see why either. The menu bristles with elegance and class as it whispers in your ear promises of delectable delights. Miraculously, they manage to stay true to their ideals whilst serving fine cuisine at affordable prices. Usually these menus are scary, foreboding tomes, but between the charming staff and the modest costs, it’s easy to see why Cousins is thriving in a highly competitive market.
Simplicity is bliss
“Of course,” Thomas laughs when I ask him if he enjoys his work.
“The new system – it takes off a lot of the stress for all of us.”
Keeping things simple and peaceful to match the serene surroundings of the lake allows Cousins to streamline the high service they’re providing while allowing Cyprien to focus more on expansions deeper into the wild depths of Hanoi and beyond. All the while the customers get to lounge luxuriantly watching the sunset shimmer off the lake with a cocktail in hand.