By Thúy Hằng
Designed by starchitect Bill Bensley and inspired by the capital's iconic Hà Nội Opera House just nearby, the newly opened Capella Hanoi is sure to amaze all with its glamour. Like many other guests, during my first visit to its restaurant for brunch one recent Sunday, I was overwhelmed by the lavish theatrical design that transports people back to the 1920s and the "heyday" of opera and performance.
The restaurant, called Backstage, contributes a great deal to the "turning-back-time" feel, and we all had fun during the brunch, which on that day was called "Diva's Brunch".
Our arrival was announced by a camera flash from a cheeky mural portraying paparazzi on the hunt for celebrities. Needless to say, we felt quite excited by the idea of being VIPs as we walked down the hallway.
Like everywhere else inside Capella Hanoi, every detail at Backstage, from the furniture to the lighting, was custom designed by Bill Bensley.
The brasserie is adorned with trunks, costumes, stage props, vintage gowns, and wooden shoe moulds that make it resemble a space where actors may gather before and after a show.
Backstage boasts black marble floors, lots of mirrors, and a cage-like structure of brass bars that lines the walls and behind which musical instruments and props are displayed.
Designed like a vintage newspaper and stating "As the overture begins, you can start your culinary experience here in Backstage", the menu features a host of dishes that guarantee a memorable experience for any connoisseur.
The brunch was in the concept of a semi-buffet, with some dishes on display and others served at your table.
We started by sampling a piece of the creative and freshly baked pickle bread, which bore a light scent of sour pickles – a popular part of Vietnamese meals.
For the "Overture", we tasted the "Capella Garden" – a fresh assorted salad of grilled baby zucchini, heirloom carrots, asparagus, and compressed cucumbers with a tomato and basil consommé. The "Chef Salad", featuring white chicken, banana blossom, smoked fish, trout roe, basil and lime leaves, and coconut cream sauce reminded me of dishes from Viêt Nam's neighbour, Thailand.
The "Raw Bar" seafood counter, meanwhile, displayed a large selection of premium gifts of the sea, from lobsters, oysters, and King prawns to green lip mussels and Alaska King crabs. All were as fresh as can be and retained the natural savour of shellfish.
The Diva's Brunch also featured a "Charcuterie Board", presenting Jamon Iberico Cebo, Camembert flavoured square sausage, chorizo, Milano & Napoli salami, natural ham, and mini salami sticks.
For those who prefer a liquid starter is a choice of Bouillabaisse Soup, Pumpkin Velouté, and Curried Cauliflower Soup.
I was full already when the "Main Act" arrived. Among several scrumptious offerings prepared from poultry, beef, fish, pork ribs, and lobsters, we went with the "Slow Cooked Wagyu Beef Cheek".
The meat was super tender and melted in the mouth. The Phú Quốc green pepper and coconut sauce were the perfect accompaniment, adding to its wonderful flavour.
Among the choices for the "Main Act" are also vegetarian dishes such as Vegan Tortellini and Crispy Bean Curd Skin.
While we were enjoying the food, a dancer presented a Moulin Rouge-style performance nearby. The eyes of every guest at the restaurant fell upon her, as all chatting and eating ceased and photos and filming began.
In the middle of the meal, we were invited to try another cocktail inspired by Puccini's opera Madame Butterfly . Just like the tragic tale of a young Japanese woman who falls in love with an American naval officer, the cocktail was bittersweet, and served in a small Japanese-style tea bowl.
The dessert, fittingly called "The Finale", was brought to us by the pastry chef, pushing a small trolley carrying several types of sweet treats. Now well and truly full, we chose one of each from a selection of macarons, lemon meringue, Japanese matcha tart, chocolate mousse, and other delights.
We were all curious to taste the Sarah Bernhardt cookies – a truffle-like cookie with an almond macaroon base, chocolate buttercream filling, and a coating of melted chocolate. The pastry was created by a Copenhagen pastry chef as tribute to the French actress, Sarah Bernhardt, on her visit to Copenhagen in 1911 to mark the publication of her memoir in Danish. It's always great to learn something new.
Just as we were about to finish our sumptuous brunch, a waitress came to our table with cocktail glasses on her tray, together with … a bottle of Chanel No 5. While placing the glasses on the table, she revealed the drink's artistry – inspired by the legendary couturière Coco Chanel. This is why the perfume is sprayed on the wrists of guests, to enhance their feeling about the drink and the tale behind it.
The glass was wrapped in a leather cover and accompanied by a small box of caviar. Though that may sound weird, it is in fact a perfect match as the caviar is processed into tiny ruby-coloured and rose-scented balls. VNS
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