Nestled down a secluded alleyway in Old Quarter lies a culinary gateway from which unsuspecting customers are greeted with the fine tastes of Italy. Fortune Pizza may have only seen three months of life in Hanoi, but over the course of that short space of time, they have assembled an all-star team consisting of restaurant manager, Michal Knytl, and Abdul Tajet Binmat Amine – a.k.a. Chef Jet – who both took some time out to explain why authenticity and perfectionism are at the heart of everything they do.
Knytl has been visiting Hanoi annually since 2008, but it was only April this year that he took the plunge and joined the teeming masses of the Vietnamese capital. Prior to his passion project of Fortune Pizza, Knytl had worked in VIP catering aboard business class and private airlines and served a string of well-known international figures along the way – including Britain’s own Queen Elizabeth II. “Naturally, it was this job that got me into food – this was VIP catering, so we only really worked with luxury products of very good quality due to the clientele.”
Knytl has a keen eye for detail and a ruthless sense of perfectionism. “In my previous job, perfection was necessary across the board. If we couldn’t get an item, we wouldn’t do that dish and it’s the same here at Fortune Pizza, we don’t substitute anything, we do it perfectly or not at all.”
The man responsible for turning Knytl’s vision into a delectable reality is of course no other than Chef Jet, who brings his five years of culinary expertise to Fortune Pizza’s kitchen. “I’ve been working in both Saigon and Hanoi, but I started in a very small restaurant, washing dishes until I was promoted to washing salad, but I watched everything that the chef was doing, everything I learned I picked up from watching people working in the kitchen.”
Hailing from Malaysia, Chef Jet’s affinity for European cuisine was cemented following his tutelage under French-trained Luu Duc Duy, head chef at A La Folie. “I hope that if he comes here, he’ll be proud,” Chef Jet tells me. “He was my master, I learnt a lot with him – he showed me how even just small things can change the taste of a dish, like this onion for example, taste it and you’ll see what I mean.” He motions to the small red onion atop my plate, which is softer and more delicate in flavour than expected, as though the distinct tang of onion had been tempered in some way by forces unknown. Unwilling to give away the exact details of his secret, Chef Jet just grinned, “It’s amazing what you can do with a little red wine.”
The menu at Fortune Pizza has been solely divined by Chef Jet, who – along with Knytl – insisted on using imported ingredients. “I wanted things straight from Italy. Our pasta, our pizza and our bread – it’s all hand-made here in the kitchen, we want to give our customers the best recipes we can.”
Knytl sees the work of Chef Jet and Fortune Pizza as vital to raising the collective bar of Hanoi’s insatiable lust for pizza. “I’ve been coming to this city religiously since 2008. Back then, I’d consciously avoid pizza in Hanoi. Trust me when I say that it’s definitely improved over the last decade!” There’s an obvious passionate energy brimming in his eyes when he talks about food, especially in the context of Vietnam. “It’s so good to see too, an improvement in the quality of food usually means an improvement in the quality of life and I’m proud that we can take part in that.”
United by the vision of Hanoians eating better food, Chef Jet agrees that the need for quality is key. “We keep everything fresh, I’ll only give my customers the very best, for example our pasta – we make it here in-house and never serve it once it’s more than a day old.”
The road to perfection is a never-ending one, but it’s worth the journey as far as Knytl and Chef Jet can see. Looking forward over those endless horizons, Knytl lays out the plans for Fortune Pizza. “We want to do tasting menus once a month, keeping the flavours themed – I just want my restaurant to have a life, a soul and to do more than just good food,” he flashes an earnest smile.
For a perfect taste of Italy, head to 9 Au Trieu, Hang Trong, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi.