As Amanda and I pulled up outside what looked more like a club that would turn me away than a restaurant, I wondered if I had taken the wrong left on Xuan Dieu and arrived in London or New York.
No, the big red sign informed me we were in fact stood in front of Linguini Fini, which I had deduced probably served Italian food.
As I dismounted from what suddenly seemed like a shabby motorbike, the restaurant’s chic, modern interior opened up before me like a foreboding cave designed by someone with a double-barreled name.
Though my sophisticated companion may have been at home in New York’s meatpacking district or Shoreditch, part of why I love Hanoi is the mess and dirt of it all that allows a guy who can’t tell foie gras from fettuccine to blend in. I was preparing to lose plenty of face.
“How about we sit outside?” I gibbered nervously to Amanda. Luckily she assented and we took a pew on some kegs that had been repurposed as seats outside the restaurant.
As the night wore on, it didn’t feel like we were quite in Hanoi, nor did it feel like being in the West, but some strange netherworld.
Dazed and Confused
We began with some drinks while overlooking the chaos of Saturday night Hanoi traffic, but being served by an unusually attentive yet not overbearing waitress told me we weren’t in Kansas anymore.
The biggest factor in transforming my trepidation into confusion was the food on offer, fresh Italian food in Hanoi? Surely not.
To start we shared a burrata with tomatoes and bread, a dish with more cream and cheese in it that the average Hanoian restaurant’s entire menu. It was scoffed in short order, despite the cheese overwhelming palates unused to such decadence.
As the rich flavours played on my tongue I drifted away from Hanoi, to somewhere where cheese and relaxed dining is normal.
I was brought back home by an image that would be bizarre anywhere but Vietnam. A waiter was carrying a tray of pints across the road to another restaurant. Had he had enough of his job and decided to very carefully take his revenge? Was it something less sinister? Sometimes it’s better not to know.
After returning to reality my second course of creamy cheese arrived in the form of spaghetti carbonara. My arteries didn’t thank me, but my taste buds were satisfied with the tangy sauce over homemade pasta, though if you’re reading Dad, yours is better.
As per usual I inhaled this final course, and as I watched Amanda tuck into her pappardelle with bolognese, I was once again reminded of where I actually was by an interaction between our waitress and a middle-aged Vietnamese man.
He was gesticulating wildly as he repeated the same thesis over and over again, while the young lady calmly pointed down the road.
“Please, I heard you guys have some banging acid house playing in there and I’m dying for a boogie!” I imagined he was saying.
Or maybe he wanted to park his bike, again, sometimes it’s better not to know.
Lost in a World of Linguini
Peter is a Northern Irishman who washed up in Hanoi, discovered he couldn't teach and hasn't looked back since. He enjoys long walks through rice paddies and is still learning how to dress himself properly.
An Italian restaurant rooted in New York culture, featuring entirely homemade food sourced from local produce.
36-38 Xuan Dieu, Quang An Ward
Tay Ho District, Hanoi
Tay Ho District, Hanoi