33 Lạc Trung, Hai Bà Trưng, Hanoi
Don's has a *serious* problem.
Living just next door to Don's I have frequented the establishment quite a lot and likewise had numerous deliveries over the last nine months, but it seems like the persons responsible for running the business has lost their marbles and definitely lost grip of how to run a successful high quality restaurant.
A couple of weeks ago my wife and I went to Don's for a bit of breakfast. The usual all day breakfast menu sets had apparently gone and had, according to the waiter been replaced by individual ordering - raising the price significantly for less food. This is the way the whole world is going so why not Don's - I won't hold that against them.
What I will hold against him is that once our breakfast arrived at the table, consisting of Eggs Benedict with smoked salmon and potato rösti, the meals were inedible and unsuitable for human consumption. The eggs were almost raw - not just soft and runny as you would expect from a poached egg, but the egg whites were raw and runny. Worst of all the potato rösti we literally rotten inside. They had apparently been made a several days in advance and had been left in the fridge and dumped in the deep fryer for the occasion. Despite the fact that rösti should not be deep fried but pan fried, serving rotten food is unforgivable and indicates a head chef with a dubious morale or total lack of control. If I were Don I would fire people for negligence like this. It must be said, in the defense of Don's, that we didn't have to pay for the breakfast, nor for the coffees and croissants that replaced the inedible meal.
Today around lunchtime I was working from home and felt a little famished. I called Don's "Delivery Hotline" and tried to order a delivery. I didn't succeed!! I got to speak to five different persons that didn't take my order, but just said "wait me a minute" - it is not that my spoken English is generally incomprehensible and one should expect that staff at a "Delivery Hotline" would understand sentences such as "I would like to order a delivery please" - this was however not the case with Don's today. I ended up ordering from Al Fresco’s instead – definitely not as good as it would have been at Don’s in it’s hey days, but it was ordered with a minimum of fuss, it was delivered quickly and was value for money.
If Don’s want to maintain the upmarket image and the more than upmarket prices they should get their act together. The single star is awarded purely for veneration and past performance, as there is nothing in the performance I have seen from Don’s recently that deserves any kind of praise.
Based on salivating reviews of TNHers and the recent elevation of Don's to the top 50 Asian restaurants, my son and I ventured to Westlake looking forward to a fine dining experience.
It didn't happen and from start to finish the evening was underwhelming, certainly overrated and overpriced.
Started with Martini's downstairs and the size was OK for the 185,000 dong tag and it was also 2 for 1 which helped. Unfortunately the olives had been previously stuffed with pimentos and anchovies and this was certainly not a 'classical' martini when tasted.
Upstairs we were put on the third floor and first impression was mixed. Nice view but the room suffered from blue tacky curtain motifs as well as an excruciating mixture of art pieces on the wall. Anyway, not there for decor.
First course was soup and I had the soup of the day and my son had the Thai Shrimp soup. The Thai soup (Tom Yum, 199,000 vnd) had heat but really weak flavour, my cream of potato (120,000 vnd) was bland in the extreme and seem to suffer from over starchiness (maybe too much corn starch or someone decided to add flour as a thickener . Max, my son, did not eat the soup and sent it back.
Second course appetizers were: for me the Classic Caesar Salad (195,000 vnd) and Max went for the intriguingly named Lobster 4-Ways (330,000 vnd).
My salad was a bit dry, needed more dressing and I had to ask for Parmesan cheese as mine did not come with any. Could taste the anchovies but very little garlic flavour. Small serving too.
The lobster treat was beautifully presented, very creative and worth a photograph. Unfortunately this suffered from lack of flavour (lobster is creamy and sweet) probably due to the fact that lobster is expensive so only very tiny pieces of lobster meat were present (actually just two small rubbery pieces the size of my little fingernail). Overall pretty but pretty tasteless. Max didn't eat all of this either.
Main courses were NZ shank of lamb (420,000 vnd)for Max and the signature dish of SaPa duck breast and duck leg confit (480,000 vnd)for me. Both portions were ample but the shank really did not measure up and went half eaten. The plate spoiled by a great lump of boiled broccoli that looked amateurish and something you'd expect to find in a second or third rate restaurant. My SaPa dish suffered from lack of flavour in the duck breast and the leg confit was also surprisingly lacking in taste considering confit means the meat is poached in its own fat. The advertised raspberry and green pepper sauce turned out to be a melange of chunky fruit sauce similar to a liquid chutney. It overpowered the dish. Both pieces of duck were cooked nicely, just unfortunate about the lack of flavours. When you order duck I think it is reasonable to expect that your meal will taste like duck.
Our meal was accompanied by a bottle of wine from the very extensive list.We had the Frescobaldi Pater from Tuscany for 651,000 vnd, the second cheapest Italian wine on the menu.
A note about the wine list, if you want something decent be prepared to fork out well over a million dong per bottle. Case in point, only 2 reds under one million in the Australian wine which had 31 different bottles on order and 50% of the bottles were in the 2 million plus range. Of the 200 red wines wines on the list, only 32 were under 900,000 and most of those were, of course, Chilean. The median price of wine on the list is around 3,000,000. Mind you, if you have 55 million you don't particularly need, you can indulge in a bottle of Chateau Lafite-Rothschild. Certainly some fine wines here but the Chilean and Argentinian which are affordable wines, are overpriced. Nothing new about that.
Consensus of the evening was disappointment and high expectations that were never delivered. Our experience was similar to other places which seem to engage in offering what I would call Faux-Fine Dining and a lack of consistency. (I place Le Beaulieu, La Badiane in the same category). No doubt Chef Berger has the credentials and perhaps if he had been cooking our meal, we might have been pleasantly surprised. But, everything that goes out of the kitchen has Chef Burgers name on it and it needs to be better to meet the placing in Asia's top 50 and labelled as Vietnam's Best Restaurant (which to my plebeian tastes it definitely is not).
Maybe too strict? Perhaps, but with the promotion, reviews and the top 50 award, it was well below what one could rightly expect, especially for the money.
Max will be furious when he finds out I gave them 2 stars, he was pushing for just 1.
Hmmm, reviews of Don's are turning into a debate somewhat. I agree with the one-star guy - the mexican buffet was brutal, in my opinion. I was also there for the sub-standard Thanksgiving meal. The food was OK, but just ok - not matching the price charged.
The service in Don's is poor. It's not relevant what kind of backround the staff come from (see other reviewer's comments) - if I'm in that frame of mind I go to KOTO, which is specifically promoted as such. 5-star prices deserve 5-star service AND 5-star food.
Overall the menu at Don's is far too large and varied, that they can't possibly be good at everything they do. Some of the food there is good stuff (pizza, all-day breakfast) - but alot of it should be dropped. I've had too many below average experiences there, and too much miscommunication with staff and it's just frustrating.
A lot has been said about this place- lovely view, nice decor etc... I like the cream lobster soup and steak here, spaghetti is not good tho, too under cooked... what I didnt like about the staff is that she tried so hard to push us into having the most expensive steak (1450k) on the menu and we tried and not too impressed.... and they charge $50 corkage for liquor ($20 for wine) btw the menu looks so confusing with too much text and poor layout, no way a person could easily navigate the menu... so we gave in and let the waitress recommend dishes... I like the little bakery corner downstairs with all the x'mas cookies, good price and perfect for kids....
I'm going to be in the minority here, but I'll go ahead and say it - I think Don's is completely overrated.
Don't get me wrong, the food is excellent and the service is great (if you like hovering waiters, which is apparently what passes for "good" service these days). But there are easily a dozen restaurants around town with food that is equally good that is a fraction of the price. Maybe I'm biased because I don't eat meat, and the menu is quite meat heavy.
One appetizer, one glass of wine, the main course and dessert is easily $60+ per person. Food was good but not exquisite enough to merit these prices, and certainly not in Hanoi. I finished my meal thinking, "this was probably a quarter of the median monthly income of the average family in Vietnam." The saddest part is that the meal was so unmemorable that I can't even remember what I ate!
Bottom line - if I were a foreign businessman on an expense account looking to impress a client, Don's would be perfect. Otherwise, I don't think I'll be back here.