I've been trying to take the rounds of different restaurants and cafes all over Hanoi just to try to experience the various places around this amazing city. They range from the cheap to the touristy and expensive Dinh Lang Restaurant beside Hoan Kiem Lake. In such restaurant, you know that you are paying for its atmospehere and location, thus our dinner for two winded with a 450,000 dong, which comprised a crunchy delectable spring roll, braised chicken, and rice. Last night, I had dinner at Paradise Restaurant which had a cozy, albeit dark atmosphere. This was such a surprise as the place boasted of a duet of piano and violin playing tunes like "Moon River" and "Reality" (from that Sophie Marceau French movie back in the late 80s). The entrees were affordably priced, most of which cost 55,000 dong. When I asked if this doesn't include rice (it didn't say it did), the lady said, "no problem, i'll include rice for you"). Nice atmosphere, great list of choices, delicious food (I ordered Fried Chicken which seemed like it was cooked in Pinas, no kidding), and relaxing, familiar tunes played in piano and violin.
Just when I thought I've found a favorite, guess again.
Today, as I was roaming the West Lakes (Hanoi's biggest lake located northwest of the city), I saw this restaurant called Hanoi Marina restaurant. It's actually easy to locate. Near Than Nien Street, which separates the West Lakes (locals call it Ho Tay) and the smaller (and smelly Truch Bach Lake), it is located at 12 Tran Vu-Ba Dinh, the riverside street very near grade school. (As a sidebar, there is a reason why the southern end of Trcuc Bach Lake smells. While walking around the lake, I noticed several live fish gasping for air, right on the grounds beside the lake. Apparently, some Viets fish for them then leave them there to die. I wish they noticed how much their practice stinks the area.)
It offers a buffet meal for just 99,000 dong. Is it worth it? YOU BET!
The place opens at 11:30AM, and then again at 5:30PM. Upon entry, I was impressed with the general atmosphere. Stylish furnitures, teak furnishings, high ceilings, good lighting, and a dreamy view of the adjacent Lakes. There are 5 tables stretches of food of different varieties, regularly replenished (they describe themselves as a continental restaurant). This includes a dessert table of pastries and fruits; a separate table of Australian meat and herbs, fresh produce and spices which can be brought to the nearby kitchen, and cooked fresh before you. This includes ice cream too. Near the entrance is another counter where you can order pho, fish cakes, etc.
I was trying to control myself from overstuffing, stopping every so often. I must have returned 5x, trying to taste every item which were continuously replenished and changed with new recipes. My favorite was the friend spring rolls of course. They even included a "Kentucky Fried Chicken" on the table, which looked like a KFC chicken.
I initially thought that I would be paying 99,000 dong plus 10% VAT (as was written at the entrance) but as it turns out, 99,000 was all-in! Even the drinks were part of the buffet. It was a proverbial FEAST!
For all the dinners and lunches that I've had in Hanoi, THIS is all worth the price. It's barely $6 or PhP250!!!
The minor drawback about dining in this place is its location! The West Lake is relatively far from the central Hoan Kiem Lake. But one should never miss the West Lakes for its great temple (Tran Quoc Pagoda, free ADMISSION) and its dreamy surroundings (the huge huge West Lake). IF YOU"RE THERE, then by no means, try Hanoi Marina Restaurant for one of the most spectacular gastronomic experiences this side of paradise.
After the buffet, the nearby Highlands Cafe (Vietnam's Starbucks) - romantically set on a floating boat beside the lake - is a very nice place to kill time. I loved their winding stairs, open air tables directly facing the expanse of the West Lakes. By the way, their Cappuccino Cheesecake (35,000 dong) does NOT taste like a cheesecake at all. And their caramel creme brulee is a tad too sweet. Their fresh cococnut is fine, but it's meat is impossible to scoop off its husk. Just stick with their coffee, and maybe their in-house cheesecake (not the cappuccino).