Located on the ground floor of the new Bar Betta The Center, the restaurant brings dinner and drinks together. Elisabeth Rosen reports.
In Viet Nam, the mark of success is imitation. When a business concept proves popular, it’s only a matter of time before it’s replicated. But with three Bar Bettas opened and more on the way, Tran Vu Hai didn’t give the imitators a chance.
Hai made his name as a nightlife entrepreneur with the original Bar Betta, a lounge inside an early 20th century tube house fitted out with retro decor from his collection, from radios to black-and-white photographs.
Visiting that first Bar Betta is like going to a house party: you never know who will be there, but you always run into someone interesting. Then came the sequel, Bar Betta Republic, which signaled Hai’s ambition to create a larger movement.
Set among innovative cafes and galleries in the Zone 9 complex, the raucous, warehouse-like bar was as loud and open as the original Bar Betta was small and intimate. When Zone 9 closed last year, Bar Betta Republic was one of the most mourned venues.
Now, Hai is back with yet another Bar Betta, which he has christened The Center -perhaps a reference to its location in the heart of the Old Quarter, perhaps a nod to its ambition of once again gathering Ha Noi’s creative in-crowd.
If that is indeed the goal here; the cavernous space, which brings together a restaurant and a bar, is far more difficult to characterise than its predecessors. While the bar on the second floor recreates the retro-industrial atmosphere that made Bar Betta Republic so popular, the ground-floor bistro aims to attract a different sort of clientele. As Hai puts it: “Upstairs, people drink beer. The first floor is for people who drink wine.”
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Designed by Pham Hong Cuong, one of Hai’s partners in Bar Betta Republic, the decor stays up to date with current Ha Noi trends. Light bulbs inside glass bottles illuminate the immense room; exposed brick walls are studded with brightly tinted windows. The soundtrack is more unpredictable, veering from mournful piano symphonies to Kesha and Pitbull.
Veteran MasterChef Vietnam judge Pham Tuan Hai supervises the kitchen, which turns out decent bistro fare featuring brief flashes of creativity. Steak imported from Australia (VND186,000) is marinated for 12 hours, then grilled briefly and torn into shreds. Paired with crunchy kimchi and a fiery gochujang sauce, it makes an easy dish to share with friends.
Bar Betta The Center
Address: 25 Ly Quoc Su
Price range: VND100,000-400,000
Dishes to try: Australian steak; apple crumble
Comment: Bistro conveniently downstairs from trendy bar
The hearty apple crumble (VND45,000) is also a winner, although you may not want to share.
The service is standout. Prompt and polite, the staff have mastered the art of being present to serve without making guests feel uncomfortable – a rarity in Ha Noi. However, when it comes to the prep side, things don’t always run so smoothly.
One wonders whether anyone in the kitchen has ever tasted the salad dressing, a bizarre concoction of ketchup and mayonnaise reprised from the menu at the original Bar Betta, where it felt no less out of place. The salmon-hued liquid pools atop every side salad, as well as the mix of greens, maize and cold cuts advertised as “Caesar salad Chef Bar Betta style” (VND75,000).
The restaurant’s major selling point is its convenience. Given the vagaries of Ha Noi weather, having dinner and then traipsing to a bar across town can be a major nuisance. Here, you can just park your motorbike and make a night of it.
As owner Hai puts it: “Normally people want to go somewhere for drinks after eating. Here, you just have to walk up the stairs.”