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French Grill at JW Marriot, Hanoi

posted by on 12/10/2014

Travelling to Asia, I knew I’d be eating some great food. This part of the world is known for its street food, which so far on my journey I’ve seen everywhere and eaten plenty. In London, humble street food comes with a hefty price and is often served to city folk and hipsters eager to eat some newly arrived cuisine before everyone else. French Grill is a big step away from the wonderful traditions of street food, as Chef de Cuisine, Raphael Szurek, begins a haute cuisine revolution in a quickly developing part of Hanoi.

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French Grill is quite a distance from Hanoi’s Old Quarter, the taxi journey there let me see some parts of the city I had yet to explore and when I arrived at the JW Marriot Hotel I was shown to the entrance of the French Grill where I was met by head chef Raphael Szurek himself. As we got acquainted with one another, he showed me around the restaurant: a bar, grand piano, walk-in wine cooler, dining area and private dining room all orbit the largest open kitchen in Hanoi. An abundance of natural light and the open kitchen do wonders for the restaurants atmosphere, which remains elegant but relaxed, I also felt that the seating did a great job of providing a sense of privacy and intimacy that I hadn’t experienced much in restaurants before.

After all that walking, I was ready to eat. I waited patiently with a Kir Royale cocktail and some freshly baked warm bread for my first course: Salmon Tartar, simply seasoned and served with crispy sour dough bread. To let me know just how fresh the fish was, Chef Szurek served the salmon on a small stone, as if both had just been pulled from the sea. Next up was Seared Fois Gras, served with pear poached in white wine and vanilla, hibiscus gel and edamame beans. What struck me with this dish was the way the flavour flow and changed, as if I were tasting each ingredient separately and then together. Lobster Bisque came next, made beautifully creamy with a truffle cream that cajoled the Espelette chilli, it was poured from a glass at the table over the roasted lobster tail. Another fish course followed, Scallop with a cauliflower cream saffron emulsion and caviar, while I wasn’t sure about the foamy emulsion, the scallop was delicious and like the salmon, I knew there were no compromises on freshness.

I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the white wine served with my first four courses, as any wine should it complimented the food perfectly. The next cause provided a delightful pause, a Phu Quoc pepper and black currant sorbet with dark chocolate crumbs was so refreshing, while invitingly fruity and sweet, the pepper brought an interestingly warm taste, it cleansed my pallet before the main course. Kobe style beef tenderloin, served with a green pea puree, a garden of confit vegetables and a morels sauce. *sigh* Just thinking about it takes me back to heaven. My photos will never do it justice, because you don’t get to smell and taste it, the beef was otherworldly and the morels sauce, made with the highly regarded morels mushroom, a delight. Served with a glass of red wine that united with the beef and morels sauce to overwhelm my senses with grandeur, the combination knew it was powerful and blew me away. If that wasn’t enough, I ended the night with Summer in Hanoi, French Grill’s signature season dessert. A coconut and lime panna cotta, grilled pineapple, crème fraiche and pistachio ice cream, perhaps the most beautiful of all the dishes, there couldn’t have been a more impressive way to end the meal. It tasted of joy and nothing could stop the flavours from dancing with happiness on my taste buds.

Chef Szurek has worked and trained in Paris and Hong Kong, he is an artist and clearly has great support from his small team of craftsmen, his enthusiasm and dedication to his kitchen is undeniable. He works with locally sourced organic fruit and vegetables, while meat and fish is shipped from the US, France, Australia, etc. Like many chefs, Raphael works from early in the morning until late at night, his kitchen is his first home and he takes minimal days off, but it doesn’t show as he runs the front of the kitchen so calmly, he appears to be one with his kitchen. I thank you for the phenomenal experience Chef!

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