When you get to high places, lofty musings are in order. Lucy Sexton does the needful after getting to the highest spot on Ha Noi's culinary scene and tucking into some lamb chops with relish.
On Top of Ha Noi. It's a name, location and state of being embodied by Lotte Hanoi's rooftop bar-restaurant. The newest addition to Ha Noi's landscape, the towering Lotte building is a symbol in many respects, and like all symbols it exists beyond the sum of its parts.
It might be saying too much to compare Lotte Hanoi with the iconic Empire State building of NYC or the Eiffel Tower in Paris, but they are similar in the perception-changing views they afford. All three structures were built to be their city's pinnacle of brick and metal, both a signpost and a promise of human development.
Lotte Hanoi is exactly that, a promise for more to come in Viet Nam's hurtling development trajectory. In true commercial spirit, the South Korean mega-company stuffed a supermarket, department store, food court, hotel, residential apartments, bar, lounge, Chinese restaurant, dim sum restaurant and western restaurant into one building and chose to top it off with a relatively novel open rooftop bar-restaurant.
I went to go try out the rooftop venue and check up on how the Lotte Hanoi is settling into life at the top.
Upon exiting the slick black halls decorated with starry ceiling lights meant to evoke the galaxy (the building is decked in cliche futurism), you are hit by a gust of air, probably the freshest you have encountered all day after Ha Noi's exhaust-choked streets.
Second thing one notices is just how small the city looks from up here, on the 65th floor. West Lake looks like a miniature twinkling movie set. The clubby LA music and the sleek décor play to the tune of international lounge standards. I see people taking selfies and groups of Korean professionals arrive for drinks. Soon, according to plans, there will be couples wrapped in blankets next to space heaters.
Then, too quickly, it's time to move on to the last of the five senses, taste.
The set dinner menu started with a well-balanced plate of foie gras pate, followed by a simmering bouillabaisse. The main course was a pair of New Zealand lamb chops in a Chilean wine reduction. The set was finished off with a flourless chocolate mousse. Each dish is paired with a wine.
The perfectly cooked lamb chops stood out; they were well seasoned, the wine reduction was lickable and I was happy to see blood on my plate. Street food and even middle-range restaurants would not have my mouth salivating over a rare piece of meat.
While there is nothing really inventive about the menu, which largely riffs off French traditional cuisine, it still strikes a chord of novelty for some.
Minh Ngan Tran, an editor and anchor for VTC who travels the world interviewing Vietnamese overseas, was excited by the rich chocolate mousse.
"Vietnamese don't really like things to be completely sweet. I really like that the sweet chocolate is paired with tart fruits. I haven't seen this in Ha Noi before," she said.
I was a bit thrown off by the lack of Korean cuisine as I expected the top tier of Lotte to dish out some Korean food pride like the sixth-floor food court. But the table's Korean counterpart, Yong Jae Kim, who does construction and franchise development, explained why it wouldn't be fitting.
"We think fine dining should have private rooms. A rooftop is not a good match with Korean food. And Korean restaurants always have a BBQ," he said.
Lucy Bui, the hotel's PR director, said that just as Lotte Hanoi did not tailor its offerings to suit Vietnamese customers, it also did not specifically target the Korean and Japanese customers who make up roughly 60 per cent of the building's clientele. The goal is to project a purely international image.
Lotte has a clear vision of what international means. Whether the restaurant can succeed based on that image, it remains to be seen. Ha Noi already offers a lot of high quality cuisine at cheaper prices.
"The 30,000 Koreans that live in Ha Noi can go anywhere, not just Lotte," said Kim, who prefers the Sofitel's Summit Lounge for views and a drink.
Minh Ngan enjoyed the experience and hoped that On Top of Ha Noi would make a Thanksgiving menu for her and her expat friends to enjoy. However, she sees Lotte Hanoi and the rooftop as a place for special occasions, rather than everyday meals.
In the end, the meal is not really about the food, you could find equal quality elsewhere – though the lamb chops were really good. It's also not just about the scenery, which is unparalleled. It's not just the small touches of service, like offering warm blankets and not smothering guests in attentiveness. It's about eating On Top of Ha Noi and all that may symbolise