The legend of Icarus is as well-known as any of the epic tales the ancient Greeks gave us. The young boy had been given wings by his father to escape an island prison but failed to heed his elder’s sage advice to avoid flying too close to the sun. Icarus’s wings soon melted, and he fell into the sea, where he drowned. It’s a tale that has withstood the ravages of time because it’s still applicable today. Icarus teaches us not to forget our roots and not too bite off more than we can chew.
Restaurants are especially at risk of meeting a similar fate to Icarus. Success can go to the head, and before long the methods and dishes that worked so well are forgotten for the flavour of the month. Remembering where you came from is key, and perhaps that’s why Hanoi’s Red Bean Classic aims to serve “modern Vietnamese cuisine with high quality and innovative ideas but never forgetting the roots and values of true and authentic Vietnamese cooking.” So how does a restaurant often cited as one of Hanoi’s best stay true to its roots, without staying stuck in the past? “The key is maintaining our love for Vietnamese food and listening to guests,” according to Amy Ngo, Red Bean Classic’s restaurant manager.
Red Bean Classic opened in 2014, the first of four Red Bean brand restaurants in Vietnam, which include Trendy, Central and Hoi An versions. The restaurants are part of the Elegance Hospitality group, with Red Bean Classic part of the Hanoi La Siesta hotel, but it’s much more than just a boutique hotel kitchen. Ngo explained the concept of the restaurant was to fuse modern innovations with classic Vietnamese flavours, and this theme extends beyond the food.
The restaurant is designed in part to look modern, with sharp lines created by the sleek bar and slickly crafted surfaces. It also blends in some more traditional aspects, with the cutlery designed to look like bamboo trees and one of the walls covered in fabric designed in the style of some of Vietnam’s ethnic minorities. As for the food, executive chef Dang Xuan Hao explained how he melds tradition and innovation by keeping traditional Vietnamese flavours, but presenting the food in a modern, more Western style, partially because as a hotel restaurant, most of Red Bean Classic’s customers aren’t Vietnamese.
Hao has worked at Red Bean Classic for four years and is a graduate of the Hoa Sua School for Disadvantaged Youth, positioning him perfectly to execute this concept by combining his French culinary training and his Vietnamese identity. While this may mean that Vietnamese patrons visit Red Bean Classic more for the experience of a refined setting than for the food, it helps introduce foreign tourists to local flavours without throwing them in at the deep end on plastic stools while gripping frayed wooden chopsticks.
The result is things like Red Bean Classic’s take on cha ca, a distinctly Hanoian fish dish. Hao’s version is served on a hot stone, creating a more eye-catching version of the dish without losing any of its classic flavours. Other Vietnamese dishes like beef in coconut are also presented beautifully, with the shell of the fruit used to house the sweet, succulent beef. The international dishes like duck breast with orange glaze maintain the same style, with simple, classic flavours juxtaposed with daring presentation.
Add it all up, and it’s clear to see Red Bean Classic isn’t another Icarus. Instead of flying too close to the sun, the restaurant keeps the important things like flavour and recipes simple, while using presentation and décor to create the feel of modernity.
To get a taste of this fine fusion of East and West, head to Red Bean Classic at 94 Pho Ma May, Hang Buom, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi