And speaking of Cepage (22 Le Thanh Ton Street, District 1), I had lunch there not too long ago with my editor Fiona and Hawkins. It seems like we’re always lunching together! The Astronomer was on a business trip to Hanoi and thus unable to dine decadently at midday with us.
Chef Andreas Ertle heads the kitchen at Cepage and specializes in Asian fusion cuisine—I think the term “Asian fusion” was meaningful sometime in the mid 90s, but has since been overused and become cliche. Let’s just say that Chef Ertle mixes local ingredients with Western techniques.
Cepage offers a little something called The Black Box for lunch on weekdays. Priced at 130,000++ VND, the three-course meal is a mystery to diners until the food arrives. I love gimmicks!
Our three-course lunch started with a mushroom soup with beef tongue. I could identify the mushroom broth right off the bat, but I needed the Chef’s assistance with the beef tongue. I initially thought they were just bits of mushroom! The light, yet creamy soup was definitely enhanced by the bits of slightly chewy tongue. Have I mentioned lately how much I love animal odds and ends?
Our second course was a filet of flaky white fish crusted with seasonings. It was placed upon a bed of sauteed bok choy with a foamy lemony sauce. Since this item wasn’t on the menu and the servers weren’t knowledgeable about the dish’s ins and outs, I was left in the dark about the details.
What I can tell you is that the fish was prepared to perfection. The seasonings (whatever they may be—I think there was some paprika) were just right and didn’t overwhelm the fish’s delicate flavor. My favorite part was the lovely crust on the fish’s exterior that was created by the seared spices.
Our final course was a cheesecake paired with a raspberry puree and shards of white and dark chocolate. Whereas cheesecakes traditionally have graham cracker crusts, this one had a base of plain white cake. The cake’s texture was as smooth as butter and the flavor was enhanced by the fruity puree.
Black Boxes add an exciting twist to routine lunches, but there are a couple drawbacks. Personally, my list of dislikes is very short, so chances are whatever the kitchen brings out I’ll be pleased. However, pickier eaters may have a hard time handing all control over to complete strangers. The only negative aspect from a food blogger’s perspective is that I didn’t know exactly what I was consuming due to the lack of menus and clueless waiters. Overall, The Black Box was an exciting and delicious meal.
Cepage is also a great late night venue and serves up stiff sake martinis. Here’s a photo to commemorate my first real martini (i.e. with olives and without sugar along the rim).