From the creator of New Century comes the Opera Club, where entertainment and fine Euro-Asian cusine rule. Justine Reilly gives it an encore.
It wasn’t until we’d been led to the highest mezzanine floor of the Opera Club that I realised what we had actually entered. At the heart of this low-lit venue was a cavernous theatre and at the centre of this theatre, a stage. And it wasn’t until leaving that I realised the stage could be seen from the multiple levels and hidden corners of the club floor.
The size of the interior – with its wood-panelled walls and art deco lead lighting – seemed to rival that of the Ha Noi Opera House, though this opulent decor was more a melting pot of Asian and European styles, business club meets romantic restaurant.
The club has been built by the same man who created such Hanoian superclubs as New Century, the Ha Le Club and Ho Guom Xanh (the one with the enormous graphic equaliser on the outside, opposite Hoan Kiem Lake.)
And he’s kept with the entertainer theme at the Opera Club. Musicians and singers offer polished performances from 9pm to 11pm nightly. On weeknights, the repertoire ranges from flamenco to Vietnamese love ballads and operatic renditions of Ave Maria. On weekends, the place becomes a jazz club. If you’re looking to have a decent conversation over dinner, it’s advisable to get there with time to spare before the music kicks off.
On the top mezzanine, we were offered the dining equivalent of a comfortable balcony seat; to one side we could see down to the “front-row” tables and stage, to the other, wall-length windows offered a view to the fairy-lit foliage outside. This seemed like a place where businessmen could retire for a quiet couple of drinks, a cigarillo and a dose of live song.
Though there is a Vietnamese specials menu on each table, we opted for the European a-la-carte option, on which the Opera Club is hoping to build its culinary name. Head chef Nguyen Quoc Dat has 10 years of experience working with European chefs in Ha Noi. Most recently he worked at the former President’s Garden (now New Window). His love of quality produce from around the world comes through in the Western-style offerings.
The club offers a breakfast menu from 7am to 10am (VND18,000), ranging from sticky rice and pho to omelette with chorizos, whereas the dining menus – both European and Vietnamese – are available for lunch and in the evening.
We began with drinks. As the house wines were the only ones served by the glass, I opted for the house red (VND55,000), a dry Chilean drop, nicely chilled, not remarkable but not unpleasant. Other wines available in bottles come from Chile, the US, France, Spain, Italy and Australia, ranging in price from VND300,000 to VND2,100,000. My friend chose a Becks (VND40,000) from the wide selection of imported beers. Cocktails and all manner of juices, coffees and teas are also available.
To start off, I went for the mussel soup (VND30,000), a local speciality with a European twist, and, to my mind, the most impressive dish of the night. It came with a perfectly baked, light pastry draped over the bowl. I broke through the pastry to discover a soup with a touch of spice, a touch of sweet, plenty of mussels and vegetables, and just enough cream to round it off. My friend and I shared the Opera salad (VND40,000), which I enjoyed – lettuce, boiled egg, potato and a tasty, freshly-made mayonnaise. We also went for an Italian Parma ham with melon salad (VND100,000), a nice mixture of flavours and textures.
Our mains of choice were all about meat. My Kiwi friend and I, an Australian, were offered a taste of home, as many of the meals on the European menu include meat imported from the Antipodes. I went for the Australian lamb ribs and vegetables (VND180,000). The lamb chops were nicely done to my medium-well preference, and simply topped by crispy grilled garlic, making the most of the succulent lamb. Th
e mash was buttery, tasty and formed into shell-shaped dollops. Sampling my friend’s Grilled New Zealand 200g beef tenderloin with gorgonzola sauce (VND180,000), I found the rich taste a little overwhelming. He, on the other hand, found it was the perfect antidote to a bout of homesickness that had been plaguing him in recent times.
We had just enough room for a taste of dessert. My friend’s cold cheesecake (VND50,000) was impressive, with that proper cream-cheese/lemon flavour and a consistency that you could really sink your… tongue into. My delicate Profiteroles (VND50,000) were nicely done, too. All this was washed down with a pot of Vietnamese tea.
To one who didn’t know better, this young club would seem like a well-established stalwart on Ha Noi bar-dining-entertainment scene. Our night there was enhanced by attention to detail: the cucumber and carrot sticks promptly delivered to our table with thousand island dressing, the flowers floating in pales throughout the club’s multiple levels, the soft, comfortable chairs. And the service, though still going through a slight teething stage, was attentive and eager, while the prices matched the style of the venue. All this was topped by quality music enriched by first-rate acoustics, in a setting that provides for a veritably out-of-the-ordinary dining experience.