12 January 2009

A Shining light - Bobby Chin

Restaurant Bobby Chinn Rules:

This restaurant is an Abba, Kenny G, and Gypsy Kings free zone. We also refuse to play any bands with more than one lead singer or matching sweaters. Female singers dressed like whores with synchronised dancing are also banned!

To preserve the dining experience, we request that you are
well versed in mobile etiquette (SILENCE). All our poultry & meats are halal or as close as it gets to kosher...Except the pork of course! None of the staff were harmed (physically) to bring you quality food and service tonight, or ever.

Childrens menu available on request and duct tape is available
for hyperactive children. Please do not ask us to split the bill other than by a number. We do not do "She had this, and I had half of that" very well.

Please note that we have smaller portions at the same price for anorexics and those aspiring. Also this restaurant allows smoking, non smokers please refrain from farting in the smoking area unless it is a cigar. Thank you....

The evening menu, Restaurant Bobby Chinn,
Hanoi, Vietnam.

Through the all enveloping dark there was a fluttering of red silk and as my eyes adjusted it appeared that I was seated in the boudoir of a Madarin's concubine.

But in fact, this was Restaurant Bobby Chinn overlooking the Hoah Kiem Lake in Hanoi, Vietnam.

The restaurant is swathed in red silk. According to Bobby, he's hung over 1000 metres of the stuff around the venue. From the pleated wall coverings and pieces hanging artfully from the ceiling, to the curtains sheltering low divans surrounding hookah pipes, the decor is a melange of San Francisco and a Western fantasy of Asia, created because silk is cheaper than paint in Vietnam.

Flowers too are cheap, so white roses are hung from the ceiling in strands from threads and everything is awash in red rose petals, right down to the toilet bowls; just some of the many quirks of the venue and of the nation. Bobby's retro Asian theme is punctuated by modern art and the antics of his staff, dressed in black so only their faces and hands emerge from the darkness, almost like mimes.

Enormous dehumidifiers loom like Daleks in the corners of the venue. And the theatre of the restaurant is so pervasive that my eyes hardly stray from the drama of the venue to the activity outside on the lake. But it is the evening service and it is dark, so very dark in here.

On arrival we were told that our table would not be ready for another ten minutes, and in happy holiday mode we settled in easily at the well lit bar. It was then that the laughs began. First a laugh of joy because they had pickled onions, and therefore I could order my favourite aperitif - a Gibson, a dry martini without olives - but most of all I was tickled by Bobby's sense of humour, which although he is rarely here now, reaches into all corners of this happy place.

Take for the example the bar menu, where he lists the ten stages of drunkeness. They extend from being witty and charming after the first drink to thinking Kenny G is a genius, to finally being bulletproof. I loved it. But the humour extends right through the menu into why he does not list vegetarian offerings to the fact that a children's menu is available along with duct tape for passifying them. Listed under side dishes and bar snacks is: We tell you "You are beautiful" all night long. (Includes a signed copy of the menu) $5

But the biggest hoot of all comes after we are seated at our table and receive our menus. Just as Mr Sticky tells me that he cannot read it whilst cloaked in darkness, our waitress descends with two illuminated magnifying glasses.

Mr Sticky was saved a trip to the rose petal strewn toilets with menu, and you could have heard me cackling all the way over at Uncle Ho's Mauseleum at the hilarity of weilding these things over the menu as service hummed away in the inky recesses of the venue. I loved the gadgets so much that I later bought one from an old man on the streets of Bangkok. Bobby sells them at the restaurant, but other than for an autographed copy of his book, I resisted the urge to pay the big bucks for Bobby Chinn themed merchandise.

And although the eating across Vietnam is very light on the purse, meals here don't come cheap. The average Vietnamese citizen can't afford to eat here, so it is the domain of expats, successful businessmen, visiting dignitaries, tourists and gangsters. It cost us roughly the equivalent of at least 60 bowls of street hawked Pho, at tourist prices, each. So the average man gets to watch the goings on through the large street level windows, but really, they're not particularly interested. I think that they probably think it's a whole lot of stuff and nonsense. And quite right they are.

I actually felt that we were surrendering wads of dough for the spectacle, the occasion and for the humour of a stand up comedian turned chef. And although the food was delicious, the portions enormous and the service envigorating for that part of the world, it was the extraneous matter that widened my grin as we loped out into the evening air for a stroll around the lake before retiring to our hotel.

What did we eat? Well that deserves its own post. Stay tuned.


Frankster said...

Am looking forward to hearing about the food! Was in Hanoi a couple of months back too, browsed expectantly thru Bobby Chinn's menu on its front-step lectern and alas decided it was too west-east fusion of which there are no lack of opportunities back home in Melbourne, and so moved on.
Meanwhile hope 2009, though in its infancy, finds your mojo start taking not too tentative steps back into your kitchen

purple goddess said...


Can't wait for more.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.