Chapter Dining & Grill Hanoi’s Quang Dung Is A Medieval Genius

“One small mistake…and disaster. The skin will tear and you waste the entire pigeon,” Quang Dung says about the “ridiculous knife skills” required to make their signature pigeon dish. It’s worth it though. “Stuffed pigeon is not new, and it’s by no means innovative, but when ours arrives at the table it’s guaranteed to raise a smile from our diners,” he adds happily.

Đọc bài viết bằng Tiếng Việt

When the pigeon does arrive it is sitting whole, encircled by a bed of bright green edamame. It looks like it belongs on a Medieval banquet table. It’s typical of Chapter Dining & Grill Hanoi, a restaurant where classic ingredients – pigeon, pheasant and duck – meet dazzling technique. And a lick of flame and a twist of smoke. 

The chicken feet are a favorite too. That’s both because the dish plays around with street food as fine dining. And for the presentation – an oversized Dong Tao chicken foot spread-eagled on the plate. “It’s the most expensive part of the most expensive chicken on the planet,” Quang Dung shrugs. “And so it challenges our guests’ understanding of what fine dining is and what it can be when we present the most humble and inexpensive street food in this way.”

Dong Tao chicken feet
Grilled chicken feet stuffed with chorizo, a dish that plays around with street food as fine dining.

Chapter Dining & Grill Hanoi Combines Simplicity With Creativity

Both the pigeon and chicken feet require some precision deboning. Then, after the bones are removed, the Chapter Dining & Grill Hanoi team stuff the chicken feet with a homemade chorizo. And they’re ready for a very careful grilling – overcooked they become too tough, undercooked too chewy. “It’s the ultimate test for our chefs,” Quang Dung adds.

The pigeon, after the chefs have flirted with disaster, is basted in hot oil, then it’s put into the oven. “Even at that stage, one small mistake takes the dish from masterpiece to complete disaster.”

Grilled pigeon
Chapter Dining & Grill Hanoi pigeon dish.

Then there’s the delicately grilled and wrapped betel leaf beef. And the pheasant combining surf, turf…and garden with caviar, bo khai greens and yellow peach.

And the burning candle that melts into butter. Each dish is as Instagrammable as the last. “But we never considered them as a gimmick,” Quang Dung says, disavowing us of the notion. “I got the idea for the candle, for example, in a book about this history of English food. I discovered that in Medieval times, they used dripping and lard as a fuel for lighting.” 

Edible candle
“We never considered it [the candle] as a gimmick,” Quang Dung says.

Chapter’s Quang Dung And The Old English Cook Book

At Chapter Dining & Grill Hanoi they run it in reverse, making the candle edible. But that required lots of trial and error. “I think it took 20 attempts which included timing exactly how long it would take to melt. 25 minutes and 7 seconds to be exact,” he says wide-eyed at the memory. “But it perfectly sums up our philosophy at Chapter Dining & Grill Hanoi where simplicity meets creativity.”

Chapter Hanoi
Charred vegetables at Chapter Dining & Grill Hanoi.

But then lots of Chapter Dining & Grill’s other dishes wouldn’t look out of place on Richard II’s table. There’s the bread to mop up the burnt down candle. And all those game birds, like the pheasant, pigeon and duck.

Despite British food falling into disrepute in the last century or so, back then it could be surprisingly sophisticated. There were purees and stews, and olive oil, and mace, cloves, ginger and cinnamon. And later, an eclectic introduction of spices, and curries from India, eastern teas, and citrus fruits. Even pheasants – today a common sight in the fields and hedgerows of English – came from Asia. And although cinema and popular media has influenced our perceptions of what was eaten back then, big slabs of meat on a banquet table were rare.

Bone marrow dumplings
Bone marrow dumplings with morrel, ginger and wood ear.

There was also an early obsession with presentation. And making dishes pleasing to the eye, or “gratifying the sight.” As with the candle, Chapter Dining & Grill take it all in, taking the meats and the purees back to Hanoi, with more modern Asian touches. And it’s all carefully presented and arranged. For example unctuous bone marrow comes in delicate Asian dumplings with morrel, ginger and wood ear, arranged on a rustic black plate. 

Quang Dung studied in Exeter. It’s an ancient English city and seaport, over in the west, in Devon, with city walls, a castle and a cathedral. “That’s when I first had the idea to open a restaurant called Chapter,” he says. That’s both because his surname means chapter in English, and because Exeter is a bookish university town. “And I figured, Chapter, when I opened it, would represent a significant new chapter in my life – not following my family’s expectations but building my own culinary dreams.”

Wood-fired cuisine Hanoi
“Me and our architect co-founder sat down to create this kind of elegant but masculine space, where, functionally, nothing is out of reach for the chefs.”

The Design Reflects The Primal Flame-Grilled Cuisine Inside

And that new chapter began in Hanoi, in December last year – a standout in a slew of hot new openings. The design, like the food, echoes all those rustic influences with some flashy modern touches. Strips of twisted, rusted steel cover the facade hinting at the primal, flame-grilled cuisine to be found inside. And it’s cut through with the chic white glow of the signage that reads ‘Chapter,’ and below, 12C – the location along hip Chan Cam Street, where you can also find full-bodied cold brew at Blackbird Cafe and bountiful burgers at Ngoam

Wagyu in Hanoi
There are the occasional slabs of beef, like this perfectly grilled Wagyu.

Its architect is also Chapter Dining & Grill’s co-founder. “But, even though we know each other well, we still sat down to test some of our signature dishes, and to watch the movement of the chefs in the kitchen, to help him create this kind of elegant but masculine space, where, functionally, nothing is out of reach for the chefs – they simply need to turn round and everything they need is there.”

And, you suspect, nothing is out of reach for Quang Dung, the Medieval genius.


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