There’s a First for Everything – New Section: Restaurant Review – The KAfé, Hanoi, Vietnam

Reviewing Diary – Log 1 – 22.02.2014

Hello there, how have you been all this week? Mine was great, most of its time.😉

Today I want to start a brand-new section of my blog, dedicated to reviewing restaurants, diners, stands, kiosks, or places where I have the chance to enjoy the food and atmosphere there.  To give this special section a proper beginning, I present to you my review for the KAfé, one up-and-coming urban café/diner in Hanoi, Vietnam. It was also one unfinished business that has haunted me since 2013.

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It all began a week ago when I traveled to Hanoi to visit 2 of my besties, one lives in Hanoi, Long-leg, and one just came back from Berlin, Lovely (if you had followed this lengthy blog for a while now, you know who they are)🙂 . I did not plan this at all, really; it was the first trip that I traveled alone in quite a very long time; and it was the very first trip that I traveled alone at all in Vietnam; and it was totally random from the start to the end. In short 5 days, it was all about the love of eating: we had a Pho tour, we lived to eat, wandering in search for the best food in Old Quarter streets and alleys; we even have a to-do list that listed approximately 20 Hanoian street food that we would like to try during our stay; and we made it.😀

OK, let’s focus to the main point here: reviewing the KAfé. I have never written a food review before, so please bear with me. Foodie mode, on to max!

Oh, just one small note, in the below writing, when I said/wrote promotional pictures from the KAfé, I used the material that they shared on their Facebook Fanpage. I did not take these 5 photos, as you can see they are very professional and a lot different from mine. For more information, please visit their website.

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It was on the 16th February, 7pm that Lovely and I arrived at the KAfé on 18 Dien Bien Phu st., Ba Dinh dist., Hanoi, Vietnam. I have booked its Valentine set for 2 on the 15th so we kinda have a rough idea what we gonna taste this time.

And here are their fancy names from the menu:

  • Starter: Toasted Brioche with Chicken Liver Parfait and Apple Chutney, Tempura Oysters with Seaweed and Soy broth
  • Main Course 1: Handmade Saffron Linguine Pasta tossed with Shellfish sauce, White wine Clams, Chili, Garlic, and Basil
  • Main Course 2: Roasted Chicken Galantine with Mushrooms, Baby Carrots, Fava Beans, and Champagne sauce.
  • Dessert 1: Hot Chocolate Fondant with Earl Grey Ice-cream and Walnut Crisp
  • Dessert 2: Baked French Custard with Prune and Brandy

Names below are from my memory of the food:

  • Starter: Toasted Bread with Chicken Liver Pate, Oyster Tempura with Seaweed flakes
  • Main Course 1: Handmade Pasta with Seafood and Saffron
  • Main Course 2: Stuffed Chicken Breast with Baked Vegies in Cheese sauce
  • Dessert 1: Chocolate Fondant with Vanilla Ice-cream and Walnut Tuile
  • Dessert 2: French Custard with Prune sauce (a.k.a. you-don’t-know-what-you-are-eating Lemon Tart. Read on, please. It’s gonna be lovely! Trust me.)

When we arrived, both Lovely and I were very excited. Me? I wanted to be here since a long, long time ago. Lovely? Well, have I told you that I am a good persuader?😉 From the outside, the KAfé is hidden behind a clothing shop, but we recognized it right away thanks to a huge light billboard with its name on the left wall. The security led us to the stair toward the café. It was crowded and noisy (as usual for a hot spot of Hanoian youth). We hesitated at the door, waiting to be seated. It was not until we spoke up, a staff came and showed us to our table, which stood a sign “Reserved: A. Hung” (another guest’s name, a Vietnamese guy name). I had to ask to make sure that it was ours. Well, if it were my Valentine dinner (which it still was, just in an interesting way, with my GF Lovely), I would not want to go through a romantic starter then get shooed to another table when the real booker arrived, risk embarrassing myself with my special someone, right?

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We were asked to order separated drinks to compliment our dinner, and we (well, I) were curious about the KAfé’s special Valentine drink: Pink Crush – a mixture of hibiscus syrup, orange juice, and sprite, so we chose it. 5 minutes chatting time, and the drinks arrived. It was a quite OK drink, a hint of hibiscus flower going very well with orange juice sourness made it fairly interesting, but nonetheless, it did not amaze us to the wow extent.

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The table arrangement was nice, clean and romantic with complimentary water, candles and fresh flowers. One problem was the table was quite full already with that much stuff on it. Hum, where should we put our plates?

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Starter: Toasted Brioche with Chicken Liver Parfait and Apple Chutney, Tempura Oysters with Seaweed and Soy broth

Their picture as follow:

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15 minutes after being seated, the starter was ready, which was comfortably fast for us, we were pleased. Take some responsible picture to compare with their promotional material. Then we dug in.

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Wait! We were about to dig in, I read the menu on the table, and there were something seemingly missing. “Where is the seaweed and Soy broth?” I asked our waiter. 5-second silence/pure awkwardness passed and he said that he gonna go ask the kitchen. How come he, a server, did not know what the kitchen asked him to serve to the table? “Oh, this off to a great start now!” – I murmured to Lovely. 2 minutes later, he came out and said that the seaweed was in the tempura batter, without explaining anything on the soy broth. We started eating anyway, began with oyster tempura. I was not sure it was the soy broth or the seasoning that they dip the oyster in, but on first bite, it was salty, not way too much, but you could taste it on your tongue. I could not distinct the seaweed in the dish, and the tempura did not embrace its crunchiness.

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We then each had one slice of bread; spread on it an enormous amount of pate and a tiny bit of apple chutney. It was heavenly; the sweetness of chutney goes great with pate’s richness. I wished we had at least two more slices of bread and 1 more portion of apple chutney to go with that huge mountain of pate. Not as nice and balanced as in the promotional picture, eh? Except from the missing of Soy broth, the misbalance between the liver and bread, and the hardly understandable fusion of Asian and Western in this dish, we enjoyed the pate with bread and chutney pretty much.

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One thing that bothered us was that during starter, the staff constantly asked us if we wanted them to serve the main courses. Guys, it was a Valentine Dinner, give us a rest. If you want you table back that much, just let us know, and we’ll be gone like a wind.

Anyway, seeing the staff’s “enthusiasm”, we reluctantly fast-forwarded through our starter and asked them to serve the main courses. Both 2 courses were served only 2-3 minutes after being ordered, which, to us, was suspiciously amazing. I had a bad feeling that the dishes had been ready and sit on the kitchen counter for quite a long time, that was why the staff was rushed to serve them to us as fast as they can.

I truly hoped my feeling was wrong, but it seemed otherwise. Read on please!

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Main Course 1: Handmade Saffron Linguine Pasta tossed with Shellfish sauce, White wine Clams, Chili, Garlic, and Basil

Their picture as follow:

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We took about 2-3 more minutes to take photos, and then we started with the first main course: Handmade pasta with Clam and Saffron. I was excited at first, because to tell the truth, I had never tasted Saffron before.

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First bite into this dish, my oh my, I was speechless. “It was B.A.D.” said Lovely. She is not an extremely picky eater like me, and she can tolerate almost every weird combination we’ve ever made to her. So, you should trust me when I tell you one dish was great, but trust her when she tell you one was, well, bad. It was just… so wrong.

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First, the pasta did not seem to be “Linguine” – “Flattened pasta” to me, it was either a spaghetti over-stirred to the point of breaking it apart or they were serving an “Fideo” – “Short pasta”. Honestly, I did not know which description is worse.

Let me begin this paragraph with an Italian saying, “the guest should wait for the pasta, not the pasta for the guest!” Simply put, this pasta was overcooked, causing it to be broken into short pieces. And when I said “overcooked”, I did not yet apply that “al dente” – “Firm to the bite” perfect pasta cooking standard here, and it was already well on its way to the mushy point. The pasta was underseasoned; the clams were chewy and lost its juiciness, I did not see where the basil could blend in either. I ate 1/8 of the pasta and gave up.

Main Course 2: Roasted Chicken Galantine with Mushrooms, Baby Carrots, Fava Beans, and Champagne sauce

Their picture as follow:

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Prove to us “You’re wrong”; prove to us now! – That was what I was praying in my head when I switched to the second main course.

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Sadly, very sadly, another one bit the dust. I could moan thousands of words about this dish, but let’s not doing that again. Summary: whole dish was timidly underseasoned (again), the chicken was sand-dry, the sauce was lumpy, the bean is not even fava bean like advertised, not to mention that it smelled like it had gone bad and it was undercooked.  Only edible components to me were the baked baby carrots, and the mushrooms (which were dried mushrooms rehydrated).

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One thing started provoking my angriness was that during this course, I called a staff out (yes, the same waiter). I said to him that the chicken was too dry for me and the bean’s smell was weird. Another 5 second of awkward and this time with little sense of irritation from both sides, he offered to bring the plate back to ask the kitchen, I agreed. 5 minutes later, he came out, said to my face 2 things: 1) The chef tasted our beans and said their was nothing wrong with it and that they import new stock everyday, and 2) The chicken breast supposed to taste that dry. My eyes were rolling and staring at him, speechless. Then I asked him to clear the table, we are finished with the main course, please bring us desserts.

What the hell, man? What happened to “Customer’s always right”? Well, I know we are wrong, sometimes, but when we complained, it should be taken seriously. Bean tasted normal? I doubted it, but OK, well, what if my tongue is truly a completely useless piece of meat. Chicken breast should taste dry? This I cannot tolerate. I have had that heavenly cooked chicken breast, where its juiciness amazes your whole mouth and it just keeps on giving and giving when you chew into it. It is drier than other cut like thigh or drumstick of course, but when you cut into a real one, its surface should still glitter of meat juice and the knife should have very minimal resistance cutting into it. AND YOU TELL ME THAT THIS PIECE OF ROCK WAS PERFECTLY NORMAL? Man, that was a full-capitalized sentence.

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OK, moving on the last plate of our dinner. Desserts. Their picture as follow:

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Here is my picture of the real dish.

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This time, they made us wait for more than 20 minutes to have our dessert. But then this gave us time to talk to each other, so 20 minutes went by quite OK.

Dessert 1: Hot Chocolate Fondant with Earl Grey Ice-cream and Walnut Crisp

One first look, only abnormal thing was the melted ice cream. I had great hope for other thing.

Chocolate Fondant or in more easily understanding, Molten Lava Cake, with ice cream is one of my favorite desserts. The “wow” moment when you cut your spoon into it, through a thin baked layer of chocolate cake, and the uncooked chocolate batter just oozes out, onto the dish, then you whip that hot liquid with a spoonful of cold ice cream into your mouth…That is my heaven on Earth, you know? I cut my way into this fondant. Huh, something was not right. I kept digging, and I almost cried when see a small hole of uncooked chocolate well hidden within a thick, almost fully baked chocolate cake. Where was it? Where is my hot Choco sauce?

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Seeing the clear-as-day impatience, Lovely encouraged: “Try it, maybe you’ll think otherwise.” So, I had a bite anyway. 2 things I recognized: 1) The cake was overbaked, obviously, it would have been amazing if was taken out of the oven 2-3 minutes earlier because it tasted great. 2) It was not Earl Grey ice cream; it was Vanilla. Oh, well, another speechless moment between Lovely and I. I started getting quite embarrassed taking her here for dinner.

Another thing is that the Walnut Crisp was not crispy or was special, and to me, it held no more meaning to the dish than a place to keep my Valentine secret message to Lovely.

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I was very already up to my neck with disappointment, and I thought that things couldn’t get any worse at this point. Apparently, I was wrong. How amazing! Moving on.

Dessert 2: Baked French Custard with Prune and Brandy

Or I wished it were.

This is what I was served: Lemon Tart.

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I was furious, I was. I took one bite, and I called the staff immediately. Then another waitress showed up. (Haha, not the first one, I had successfully annoyed (or scared) him to that point.) I said to her that this was not what said in the menu. This was no French Custard and where was my prune in brandy? She insisted many times “No, it is the dish, the prune is inside that dish.” I said my thought out loud: “ So you think I don’t know what I am tasting? First, if you don’t know yet, prune is brown and brown is very detectable if mixed in yellow custard. Secondly, I told you, it is Lemon tart, it looks like one and it sure tastes like one.”

“So you think I don’t know what I am tasting?” I repeated, now with sheer angriness as I raised my voice. Her face turned pale, “Please wait”, she said. 2 minutes later, another girl with no uniform showed up, I knew she was the café manager, she look at my dish, and asked me what was wrong. I repeated the same things I said to the waitress. She had a look at my plate and admitted that they ran out of prune today, and that the Valentine set was not booked by many on that day, so they did not make any Baked French Custard.

I was amazed and I replied: “So you don’t have any prune, so you don’t have enough customers, so you don’t make things that you promised on the menu? So you just decide to serve us a different dish without asking for our permission first? We pay to have food in that menu, we don’t eat for free, and you know that right?” She was pale too, but with more control, she asked to give us a complimentary dessert to make it up to us. Lovely seemed uneasy, and I did not want to make her feel uncomfortable. So, we ordered tiramisu in a cup as the manager recommended it to us. 5 minutes later, she came out and said that the tiramisu had just been made, so she doubted that the quality was not ready to be served to us. Well, you recommended it, did you or did you not? Anyway, we chose Lime Leaf Crème Brulee with Coffee biscotti. Their picture as follow:

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Complimentary Dessert: Lime Leaf Crème Brulee with Coffee Biscotti

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One first look, this one looked the most similar to that in the menu. We cracked the torched caramel open.

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And we dug in.

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Long story short: the caramel was hard and crunchy as it should be (Thank God), there was not even a slightest hint of Lime leaf (and I know for sure this is a very strong aroma); the coffee biscotti was hard (not the same as the enjoyable hardness that a biscotti usually is); the crème brulee did not taste that great as it didn’t have that melt-in-the-mouth softness or the upright richness that make a crème brulee so sinfully attractive.

We were not amazed.

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Conclusion

Below is my rating for the dish and the KAfé:

  • Food (average): 2.1/5
    • Starter: 3.5/5
    • Main course 1: 1/5
    • Main course 2: 0.5/5
    • Dessert 1: 2/5
    • Dessert 2 (Lemon tart) 3.5/5
    • Complimentary Dessert: 2.5/5
    • Drink: 3/5
    • Atmosphere: 3/5
    • Staff: 1/5

The KAfé (average): 2.3/5

Well, I wished at I could say more positive things at these last lines. But truth is, Life rarely goes as we expected. Maybe my expectation was too high, or the food that day was abnormally bad, or it was a twisted combination of both. But both Lovely and I was underwhelming with our experience at the KAfé. If we had to make choice on whether we want to return here, I doubt my eagerness. It was not just the unstable quality of food that holds me back, but the customer service is honestly not good. Until they change, and keep their promises with the customer, I don’t think returning here would show up on my to-do list.

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I finished this post 3 days before I decide whether I should post it or not. But I believe that negativity if can turn into motivation and change, then things can get better. So I posted it here.

With more honesty and trust than anyone can think after reading this, I hope it helps more than it ruins.

Until next time,

Rose,

3 thoughts on “There’s a First for Everything – New Section: Restaurant Review – The KAfé, Hanoi, Vietnam

  1. Pingback: Hanoi Street Food Tour, and Other Random Things (Part 1/2) – Another New Section for a Different Woman’s Day | Simply a Food Blog

  2. Rose,
    I loved your honest review without glossing over the hard truth that this is one bad restaurant! Here in America, we are treated to many forms of dry, overcooked chicken breast (I never order it when I eat out for this very reason) but it was a shock to me to hear this occurring in a restaurant in Vietnam. I think this restaurant is set up to appeal to unsuspecting foreigners like myself rather than to discerning native palettes such as yours. I don’t know if I will be in Hanoi again, but if I am, I’ll be sure to avoid The KAfe in Hanoi. You have certainly given them reason to re-think their customer non-centric approach to business. As a retired Quality Manager, I really appreciate your holding their feet to the fire.
    Thank you for including me in your email notification of this posting. I am 70 years-old and love Vietnam and it’s people and cuisine. My wife and I plan on visiting Vietnam again in another year or so and l look forward to more of your fun and candor-filled reviews.

    Like

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