‘Cocooned’ for tea, staying for dinner
VietNamNet Bridge – We call it an qua or qua chieu – a snack between meals or afternoon snack.
It’s complicated: Bun cha nem gets a sophisticated presentation on heavy metal tray.
Every Vietnamese child has grown up with qua chieu in their kindergarten years. Many years ago, during times of economic hardship, a qua chieu could have been something as simple as half a banana.
As times changed and got better, the qua chieu tradition has continued, but the snacks have changed. Now, for the kids, it can be a choux à là crème with a small tetrapack of milk, or a slice of watermelon, or half a banana. And for the adults, it is an afternoon tea session, trying out small goodies between sips of tea.
The number of places we enjoy a really leisurely afternoon tea session has mushroomed over the years.
One of them opened just last month in a beautiful French villa at the corner of Yet Kieu and Nguyen Du Street in downtown Ha Noi.
As with the new wave of tea houses in town, Cocoon Café and Lounge seems to be a destination for the yuppies, young and professionally successful, who’ve spent time travelling or studying or living abroad, yet still feel themselves Vietnamese to the core.
We went to Cocoon for afternoon tea with cakes. The tea list was standard and good. The tea sets were all fine china, which was better. We chose red dried fruits and Camomile tea (VND98,000) and the black forest cake . The sour taste of the dried red fruits went well with the cake (VND33,000).
We learnt from a friend of a friend of a friend that the owner of this house also owned the Paris Deli Café and Restaurant, which serves the best millefeuilles, or Napoléon cakes in town.
Layered sweetness: The millefeuille, or Napoleon cake at Cocoon.
Cocoon’s millefeuilles (VND35,000) are smaller in size than the successful version at the Paris Deli. The cake display area was not as beautifully presented as we expected and the choices fell short of expectations, too.
(We later learned that it was fully packed during the days it opened after Tết holidays, so it wasn’t in the best shape possible).
The décor was more impressive, with a large white urn collection catching the eye. The lighting was very good and the staircase thickly carpeted. The service was perfect as the staff and manager were excellent. All we had to do was start turning our heads, and an attentive staff came right up. Perfect service.
Cocoon also has a selection of Vietnamese and Western dining dishes. We went in for tea and ended up staying for so long that we ordered dinner as well. We tried the bun cha nem, BBQ pork with fresh rice vermicelli and herbs (VND108,000), bun thang, assorted chicken soup with fresh vermicelli (VND98,000) and bun rieu cua, rice paddy crab soup with fresh vermicelli (VND98,000).
Bun cha nem was very nicely presented. I liked the spring rolls, but the grilled meat balls were not warm enough though they were served on a little flame. It was quite good overall. Bun rieu was also above average, but was not especially impressive.
On my second time visiting Cocoon, I ordered bun thang, but this was not very good, to be honest. The soup, which should be burning hot, was not.
I have not tried the western dishes on offer, but they include Rib-eye steaks of Australian beef with red wine sauce (VND318,000), grilled Salmon with vegetables (VND288,000) and passion sauce and mussels soup (VND318,000).
The drinks menu has some great-sounding and looking detox combinations. Things to try on my next visit.
I also have to mention that the lavish feel of the villa is enhanced at night when it gets well lit.
For now, the trend of lounges serving afternoon tea shows no sign of stopping, so new places will continue to open in the coming months.
We went to one place tucked into a new mini-hotel recently, but the place had been so crowded for lunch that it smelt of food at tea time in the afternoon. Also, the porcelain tableware was overworked and showed cracks.
Not the tea set at Cocoon, though. It was in superb shape. However, our table was a big one. After serving a set of six, the waiter said they’d run out of the same tea set, so they served us in small tea cups without tasses.
When you are at Cocoon for tea, you kind of feel it’s a place where people dress up and maintain some etiquette; a place where you go to see and be seen. Nothing wrong with this, but it made me miss some other places with great ambience and great food, that are also places to think, network and do some social good.
Topped: A simple home-made yoghurt coffee.
Hot soup: Bun thang, a Ha Noi delicacy combining fresh vermicelli with chicken.
By Nguyen My Ha
Cocoon Café and Lounge
3 Yet Kieu St., Hoan Kiem Dist.
Comment: Mixed local and western food in fine dining environs