Jul 1, 2018

Vietnam Travelogue: French Dining by Green Tangerine (2 Feb 2016)

After 3 months of hiatus, I am finally back here, trying to complete this post solely dedicated to Green Tangerine.

If you were to google fine dining in Hanoi, Green Tangerine probably would not fall under your radar but it did on mine!

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Nothing Fancy @ Green Tangerine
If you were to pass by its store front at Hang Be Street, you would probably miss it.

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Hidden Cosiness @ Green Tangerine
But little do you know that it houses something bigger that it looks.

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Hidden Mansion @ Green Tangerine
Like this...

Truth be told, I was pleasantly surprised at its interior and ambiance - a welcoming change of scene in the bustling city of Hanoi in winter time.

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Starter 1: Pasta Salad @ Green Tangerine
Being a bargain hunter, set lunch menu was definitely the way to go. At VND 345k (now VND 380k), we got ourselves a 3-course lunch (starter, main course and dessert).

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Starter 1: Pasta Salad @ Green Tangerine
Served in the shape of stuffed candy, the pasta salad was more of an art piece than food.

The pasta wrap was cooked to a little less al dente to ease the cutting but not too soft to encase the treasure piles. A slice of knife would make chunks of roasted beef, gouda cheese, olives, salad, red pepper, and zucchinis spilling onto the plate.

Tenderised and caramelised, the filling was balanced on its own but could be quite flat after few bites into it. So help yourself with the mustard sauce on the side for the extra kick.

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Starter 2: Apple Tatin Tart and Tilapia @ Green Tangerine
Cooked in oven Vietnamese Kho To way, the Tilapia should be salty and savory, to complement the slices of caramelised apples and a dash of apple sauce.

While it was an intriguing dish that combined both seafood and fruits, I personally find that it was erred towards the sweeter palate and almost dessert-ish.

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Here comes our mains @ Green Tangerine
Shortly after we were done with our starters, the mains were served.

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Main 1: Sea Bras Fillet and Vegetable Gratin @ Green Tangerine
While this dish was somewhat conventional, the sea bras fillet and vegetable gratin were complemented with saffron and curcuma (turmeric) sauce. Yes, saffron, the most expensive spice.

I especially loved the crunch on the skin and the tender flesh of sea bras fillet. While perfect on its own, the sauce was definitely the bomb - flavourful, aromatic and orgasmic!

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Main 2: Duck Fillet and Eggplants @ Green Tangerine
Conventional aside, our duck fillet and eggplant was another artsy presentation by Green Tangerine.

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Main 2: Duck Fillet and Eggplants @ Green Tangerine
Doused in thyme, red wine and grape sauce, those slices of duck fillet was delightfully juicy and tender. Those dollops of lime puree above eggplants gave the extra tanginess to the subtle sour profile of eggplant.

If I were to choose one among the two mains, I would go for duck fillet for its complexity and excitement in flavours.

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Dessert 1: Spice Pain Perdu @ Green Tangerine
Now that we had both starters and mains, we had nothing but high expectation for our desserts. As it is for all French dessert, it is small, pretty but awesome.

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Dessert 1: Spice Pain Perdu @ Green Tangerine
Served with small dollop of vanilla ice cream, mango cooked in passion fruit sauce and crumbles, the spice Pain Perdu (also known as French toast, Bombay toast) provided the perfect base to soak up the melting vanilla ice cream. Almost bread pudding like, but not quite.

I believe the cooking of mango in passion fruit sauce had somehow made the mango sweeter, yet it managed to retain its core identity, which I think it was pretty awesome.

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Dessert 2: Mille Feuille @ Green Tangerine
While the traditional Mille Feuille would usually go with berries and cream, Green Tangerine had decided to render its own Mille Feuille with candied pineapple, lime yoghurt ice cream and pineapple curry sauce.

I love how it can be crispy, crunchy, creamy, sweet and sour - Green Tangerine surely did not disappoint.

Total damage for 2 pax = VND 946k (along with a bottle of white wine)


IN SUMMARY,

My personal dining ranking (5 being the full score) based on following criteria are:
  • Ambiance - 5/5
  • Price - 4/5
  • Food - 5/5
  • Verdict - Given another chance, I would surely pay visit to Green Tangerine again! It should be exciting!

DINING INFO:

Green Tangerine
48 Hang Be Street, Hoan Kim District, Hanoi
Operation Hours: 11am - 11pm
Tel: (+84) 243.825.1286 - (+84) 243.828.9167
Credit Card: Yes

Mar 25, 2018

Vietnam Travelogue: A Day in Hoa Lu - Tam Coc (1 Feb 2016)

After a slow paced day in the city of Hanoi, it was time for us to venture a little further to other parts of Vietnam. 90km south of Hanoi is where Ninh Binh province lies, where we would visit Hoa Lu, an ancient capital featuring the royal palace grounds of the Le and Dinh dynasties, and ride a boat down the Ngo Dong River to explore the limestone caves of Tam Coc.

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Banh Mi Time @ Banh Mi Heo Quay
But first thing first, it was time for a quick breakfast at this mobile Banh Mi cart not far away from our usual porridge stall and Thuc Don @ 52 Ly Quoc Su.

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Banh Mi with Egg and Meat @ Banh Mi Heo Quay (VND 20k)
Since we are not a fan of pate, we went for the usual suspect, i.e. Banh Mi with egg and meat. Despite the lacklustre look of it, the bread was delightfully soft yet firm enough to cradle the warm scrambled eggs, flavourful marinated pork, juicy tomatoes and cucumber. I fell in love with this simple street fare called Banh Mi.

Total damage for 2 pax = VND 40k

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Hoa Lu Ancient Capital
After our simple breakfast, we were picked up by a travel van arranged by our hotel tour guide and embarked on a 2.5-hour road trip south of Hanoi.

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Entrance to Hoa Lu Ancient Capital
Đinh Tiên Hoàng Temple, Lê Đại Hành Temple, Đinh Tiên Hoàng Tomb, Lê Đại Hành Tomb, Nhật Trụ Pagoda, Noi Lam Temple, Bái Đính Temple, Thiên Tôn Cave, Trang An Grottoes, Ban Long Pagoda are some of the monuments housed in this ancient capital of Hoa Lu.

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Entrance to Đinh Tiên Hoàng Temple
Located at the former main palace of the royal citadel, Đinh Tiên Hoàng Temple is built by local residents in their effort to honor Dinh Bo Linh, the first emperor of Vietnam.

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Offering @ Đinh Tiên Hoàng Temple
Born a natural in government and military affairs, Bo Linh was a successful warlord who defeated 12 rival warlords, reunified the country and founded the first imperial dynasty of Vietnam. However, due to lack of succession, the dynasty fell into a turmoil.

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The Emperor's Carriage @ Đinh Tiên Hoàng Temple
Lê Hoàn, Bộ Lĩnh's top general, was the one who defeated his rivals and established the Lê Dynasty, Vietnam's second imperial dynasty. While Lê Đại Hành Temple shared great similarities in architecture as Đinh Tiên Hoàng Temple, Lê Đại Hành Temple was dull and grey, devoid of grandeur, colors.

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Buffet Lunch @ Duc Tuan Hotel and Restaurant
After spending an hour or so in Hoa Lu Ancient Capital, we were ferried 10km south to Tam Coc, where we had our buffet lunch in the nearby restaurant called Duc Tuan Hotel and Restaurant. Compared to our disappointing lunch onboard in Ha Long Bay, I must say Duc Tuan did restore my confidence in Vietnamese cuisine.

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Boats on Ngo Dong River @ Tam Coc 
Despite the wrong season, sampan boats were swarming around the dock, eager to ferry bus loads of tourists.

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Who needs hands to pedal? @ Tam Coc
It took us 15 minutes or so before we were led onto one of these sampan boats, manned mainly by women who pedalled with their feets as arms were too mainstream.

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Smile and let me make some quick buck! @ Tam Coc
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Limestone along Ngo Dong River @ Tam Coc
The ultimate beauty of Tam Coc would be the stark contrast of golden paddy fields among the tall limestone formations along the river.

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Limestone along Ngo Dong River @ Tam Coc
Winter was definitely the wrong season to do so. Without the golden paddy fields, what was left was the greens against the greys.

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Mountain Goat @ Tam Coc
If you are lucky enough, you might spot a mountain goat or two scaling the treacherous slope.

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The Pagodas and The Dragon @ Tam Coc
You might also spot a pagoda or two standing tall and high above these limestone formations. Then it strike you, "Someone lives up there?"

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Into the Abyss @ Tam Coc
The sampan boat passed by village after village and stretch after stretch of what was left of the golden paddy fields. The deeper we went, the quieter it became. What was left was the soft murmur of lapping water against the base of our sampan boats.

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The Sanctum @ Tam Coc
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Varying Formations @ Tam Coc
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Light after the Dark @ Tam Coc
Soon the 3 caves emerged: Hang Ca Cave (first cave), Hang Hai Cave (second cave) and Hang Ba Cave (third cave). For each cave we went through, the wider the river became, along with a broader expanse of water and varying stone formations.

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Home We Go! @ Tam Coc
Before we knew, it was time to make a u turn and head back to the dock. The journey back could be a little boring. After all, we had came the same way in.

Just a note though, once you were back to the dock, these boat women would start asking for tips. While they did try to get some from us, we just ignored them and walked away, leaving an angry woman behind.

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On the Way to Bich Dong Pagoda
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On the Way to Bich Dong Pagoda
For those who would like to explore the countryside, you could get on a bicycle and pedal 5km to Bich Dong Pagoda.

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Hey Pigs!
The best part on our cycle to Bich Dong Pagoda was none other than our encounter with these cute little pigs, scrapping for some organic vegetables along the waterlines.

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Bich Dong Pagoda @ Tam Coc
Before long, Bich Dong Pagoda came into sight.

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Bich Dong Pagoda @ Tam Coc
I must say this pagoda was under better care than some of the temples in Hoa Lu Ancient Capital.

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Bich Dong Pagoda @ Tam Coc
As a matter of fact, its architectures took on a more elaborated style with its heavily adorned pillars and beams.

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Hello and Goodbye @ Tam Coc
It was almost 5pm by the time we regrouped with our tour guide. We were so exhausted that we slept throughout our 2.5-hour ride back to Hanoi.

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Bun Bo Nam Bo @ 67 Hang Dieu
By the time we woke up hungry, we were already back in town. So we headed to Bun Bo Nam Bo at Hang Dieu for some Bum Bo Nam Bo, a Southern-Vietnamese rice noodle dish, topped with grilled beef, bean sprouts, lettuce, papaya slivers, fresh herbs, crunchy peanuts and fried onions.

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Bun Bo Nam Bo @ 67 Hang Dieu (VND 60k)
I loved the springy soft rice noodles doused in sweet sour sauce. On top of that, I loved the crunchy topping and and fragrant herbs. Every single components played their contrasting parts so well that I simply wouldn't be complaining having to eat it every day.

Total damage for 2 pax = VND 120k

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Caffeine for the Night @ Gecko Cafe (VND 30k)
What would be better to end the long day than a cup of Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk?

Total damage for 2 pax = VND 60k

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A goose maybe?

IN SUMMARY,

My personal dining ranking (5 being the full score) based on following criteria are:
  • Ambiance
    • Banh Mi Heo Quay - 3/5
    • Duc Tuan Hotel and Restaurant - 3/5
    • Bun Bo Nam Bo - 4/5
  • Price
    • Banh Mi Heo Quay - 5/5
    • Duc Tuan Hotel and Restaurant - Part of the tour (USD 35/pax)
    • Bun Bo Nam Bo - 4/5
  • Food
    • Banh Mi Heo Quay - 5/5
    • Duc Tuan Hotel and Restaurant - 4/5
    • Bun Bo Nam Bo - 5/5

  • Verdict
    • Banh Mi Heo Quay - Must try cheap eats
    • Duc Tuan Hotel and Restaurant - Surprisingly good despite being part of the tour 
    • Bun Bo Nam Bo - Give me another one please!
My personal hotel/attractions verdicts for:
  • Especen Hotel: Walking distance to Hoan Kiem Lake and local food. Spacious and comfortable room. It could use a fan for ventilation during winters. Do ask for lower floor rooms if you are not a fan of climbing narrow staircases
  • Hoa Lu Ancient Capital: Can get boring after so many temples and pagodas. Get a good tour guide who can speak good English, it does help to keep your interest and attention piqued
  • Tam Coc: Plan your visit around harvesting time. Bring your own camera for photos and do not tip the boat men

DINING INFO:

Banh Mi Heo Quay
Somewhere near 52 Ly Quoc Su
Hoan Kiem district,
Hanoi 110214, Vietnam
Operation Hours: N/A (We were there around 7-8am)
Tel: N/A
Credit Card: No (Cash only)

Duc Tuan Hotel and Restaurant
Van Lam Village,
Ninh Hai, Hoa Lư,
Ninh Bình, Vietnam
Operation Hours: N/A (We were there for lunch)
Tel: +84 98 484 62 68
Credit Card: N/A

Bun Bo Nam Bo
67 Hàng Điếu, Cửa Đông,
Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Operation Hours: 7.30am - 10.30pm
Tel: +84 24 3923 0701
Credit Card: N/A (We paid cash)

Feb 15, 2018

Vietnam Travelogue: The Afternoon in Hoa Lo Prison aka Hanoi Hilton (31 Jan 2016)

After our tour at Ha Long Bay the day before, we decided to sleep in until 11am, before paying visit to the porridge stall nearby Especen Hotel. Nothing beats waking up in a winter morning to a bowl of piping hot porridge to warm our empty bellies.

Our itinerary today was to visit Hoa Lo Prison aka Hanoi Hilton, a prison used by French colonists for political prisoners, and later for US prisoners during War of Vietnam. Before that, we needed to hunt for Banh Xeo at Quan An Ngon, approximately 900m away from Especen Hotel.

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Vietnamese Fried Pancake with Shrimp and Pork @ Quan An Ngon (VND60k)
Banh Xeo is crispy rice flour crepe made with turmeric and plenty of coconut milk, loaded with shrimp, pork, onions and perhaps sprouts, and served along with a bed of local herbs. Our Banh Xeo at Quan An Ngon matched the description. That paper thin crepe crumbled upon touch. Don't mind the shape no more, drizzle some of that sweet and sour sauce, sprinkle a leaf or two on top of the fillings, and scoop away the savory fillings!

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Steamed Rice Pancake with Shrimp and Minced Pork @ Quan An Ngon (VND50k)
Banh Cuon (aka steamed rice pancake) at Quan An Ngon was similarly loaded with shrimp and minced pork, and topped with a bed of fried onions and meat floss. I personally loved mine with a squeeze of lime juice and a dash of fish sauce that served alongside, which provided the crucial differentiation against the Banh Xeo, though the fillings was similar. If you are a fan of steamed pancake, you would find Banh Cuon here delightful.

Total damage for 2 pax = VND206k (don't remember what else we ordered...)

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Maison Centrale Gatehouse @ Hoa Lo Prison
500m walk around the corner brought us to Hoa Lo Prison. The prison was demolished back in 1990s, but the gatehouse remained as a museum for the public to visit. The ticket price to visit Hoa Lo Prison was priced at VND30k/pax.

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Heavy Door @ Hoa Lo Prison
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Vietnamese prisoners held captive for fighting for independence @ Hoa Lo Prison

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Vietnamese prisoners held captive for fighting for independence @ Hoa Lo Prison
Upon entering the gatehouse, we first came upon the male prison where about 30 prisoners were held captive. Their feet were restrained, leaving them in constant sitting/sleeping positions.

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Torture @ Hoa Lo Prison
After the common prison, the museum led us to an open air area where murals were hung along the walkway. This mural depicted the torture of prisoners.

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Painting of Hoa Lo Prison @ Hoa Lo Prison

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Female prisoners behind bars @ Hoa Lo Prison

We then entered into the female prisoners section, where the prisoners were allowed to move freely in the cells. Babies born in the prison remained with their mothers.

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The Guillotine Room @ Hoa Lo Prison
Then we came into a dark room, featuring all tools and equipments used to torture its prisoners. Being the tallest structure, the Guillotine stood tall and daunting, spelling misery to those heads come below it.

After the Guillotine Room, the exhibits switched its focus to American prisoners of Vietnam war. Interrogation room, accommodations, leisure room, just to name a few. Its nickname, Hanoi Hilton, was said to be the proof of the quality of its inmate accommodations comparable to a hotel's.

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Vua Tao Pho
After spending 2 hours in Hoa Lo Prison, we concluded our visit and headed out to Vua Tao Pho for some Tao Pho De. Tao Pho De is an unique food of Northern Vietnam for hot summer. Tao Pho was sliced into a bowl, topped with flower sugar and ice, and there you have your cool Tao Pho.

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Tao Pho De @ Vua Tao Pho (VND 20k)
I know what you are thinking - is it not tau fu fa? Smooth and silky, it was tau fu fa but less sweet. Ours came with milk tea bubbles too!

Total damage = VND 20k

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Nha Hang Mien Luon
On our way back to hotel, we made a pitstop at Nha Hang Mien Luon for its Mien Luon of course!

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Condiments @ Nha Hang Mien Luon

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Mien Luon @ Nha Hang Mien Luon (VND 50k)
Mien Luon can be directly translated into noodle eel. Basically it is a glass noodle dish, topped with fried tiny eels, bean sprout and eggs, garnished with fried shallots and fresh cucumber. I liked the texture of glass noodles, contrasting against the crunchy fried eels as you bite into it. It was definitely not as daunting as it may sound. For me, I liked to complement my Mien Luon with some limes and pickled garlic.

Total damage = VND 50k

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29 Cau Go
After catching a few hours rest in the hotel, we headed out again for dinner and walkabout. At 29 Cau Go, you can have all the local dishes above. For me, it was definitely more Bun Cha.

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Bun Cha @ 29 Cau Go (VND 40k)
The best part of Bun Cha was none other than the sizzling grilled pork served in sweet and sour broth. I personally found the broth refreshing and aptly so ,as it also served as the dipping sauce for the rice vermicelli. Portion wise, Bun Cha Dac Kim's had better meat to rice vermicelli ratio along with its VND 60k price tag. Flavour wise, Bun Cha Dac Kim's was definitely more punchy.

Total damage for 2 pax = VND 80k

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Vietnamese Coffee with Yoghurt @ Quan Mon Ngon 24
We spent the rest of the night exploring different streets in Hanoi, with each street named after the kind of trades the shops specialised in. To name a few, toys in Luong Van Can street; silk, gowns and tailors in Hang Gai street.

We got ourselves some fried crackers and dried fruits and ended the night with a cup of Vietnamese coffee with yoghurt (VND 35k) and iced Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk (VND 20k) at Quan Mon Ngon 24. The combination of bitter coffee with sweet and thick yoghurt was an unusual delight. Besides its sweetness that could well replace condensed milk, the creaminess of yoghurt did blended well into the concoction.

Total damage for 2 pax = VND 55k

Life is good.


IN SUMMARY,

My personal dining ranking (5 being the full score) based on following criteria are:

  • Ambiance
    • Quan An Ngon - 5/5
    • Vua Tao Pho - 4/5
    • Nha Hang Mien Luon - 4/5
    • 29 Cau Go - 2/5
    • Quan Mon Ngon 24 - 4/5
  • Price
    • Quan An Ngon - 3/5
    • Vua Tao Pho - 3/5
    • Nha Hang Mien Luon - 5/5
    • 29 Cau Go - 5/5
    • Quan Mon Ngon 24 - 4/5
  • Food
    • Quan An Ngon - 5/5
    • Vua Tao Pho - 4/5
    • Nha Hang Mien Luon - 4/5
    • 29 Cau Go - 4/5
    • Quan Mon Ngon 24 - 4/5
  • Verdict
    • Quan An Ngon - A starting place for tourists to experience all the local dishes before venturing to street style
    • Vua Tao Pho - A little twist to the usual tau fu fa I am used to but not a bad thing to try at all
    • Nha Hang Mien Luon - I liked it, just don't keep thinking about the eels
    • 29 Cau Go - Cheap and good, might not be enough if you order just one
    • Quan Mon Ngon 24 - A quiet cafe nearby hotel, nothing fancy, just local daily fare


My personal hotel/attractions verdicts for:
  • Especen Hotel: Walking distance to Hoan Kiem Lake and local food. Spacious and comfortable room. It could use a fan for ventilation during winters. Do ask for lower floor rooms if you are not a fan of climbing narrow staircases
  • Hoa Lo Prison: A sneak peak into the central prison in Hanoi, along with its local and Western history


DINING INFO:

Quan An Ngon
18 Phan Bội Châu, Cửa Nam, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Operation Hours: 8am - 10pm
Tel: +84 90 212 69 63
Credit Card: Yes

Vua Tao Pho
192 Hàng Bông, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Operation Hours: 7.30am - 12am
Tel: +84 93 499 93 33
Credit Card: No (we paid cash)

Nha Hang Mien Luon
87 Hàng Điếu, Cửa Đông, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Operation Hours: 6.30am - 9.30pm
Tel: +84 24 3826 7943
Credit Card: No (we paid cash)

29 Cau Go
29 Cầu Gỗ, Hàng Bạc, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Operation Hours: N/A
Tel: N/A
Credit Card: No (we paid cash)

Quan Mon Ngon 24
24 Lý Quốc Sư, Hàng Trống, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Operation Hours: N/A
Tel: N/A
Credit Card: No (we paid cash)

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