Ha Noi doesn't have a High Street, although Hai Ba Trung may be as close as it comes.
With luxury stores like Ferragamo and Louis Vuitton sitting alongside stalls hawking cheap knock-off fashion wears, this long avenue near Hoan Kiem Lake is the perfect location for a modern, high-end restaurant like Jackson's Steakhouse.
The franchise group Alfresco's, famous for fast food and cheap eats across Viet Nam, opened Jackson's in 2011 and its foray into fine dining has certainly paid off. I quickly discovered that among locals and expats alike, the establishment has made a definitive splash on the local scene; for it's steaks, seafood and extensive wine-list.
Alas, what more encouragement does a food critic need?
Eager to get out of the tropical monsoon engulfing Ha Noi and the choatic rush hour traffic heaving alongside Trang Tien Plaza, I was both relieved and surprised to find that Jackson's Steakhouse was exactly what I had been looking for - an escape.
The 'concept' of this kind of restaurant isn't particularly new, but boy, is it well executed. On the ground floor you'll find the restaurant's lounge bar, with sophisticated dining rooms on the second and third levels - perfect for the executive power lunch or a classy meal to spoil (bribe) the significant other. For the ultimate afficionados, "The Boardroom" on the fourth floor, provides an exclusive and bespoke feel for top dollar.
Throughout, a modern decor of exposed brick, wood paneling and crisp white tablecloths blends perfectly with contemporary jazz and chilled out tunes. The result is an effortlessly cool tone - hip without trying too hard, sophisticated without being over the top.
But perhaps what is most impressive is the way the group has transformed a modest Vietnamese terrace in the middle of the CBD into a refined and high-end steakhouse worthy of culinary capitals like New York or say, Melbourne. Which brings me back to my initial point. To walk into Jackson's is to retreat; escape from the hustle and bustle, the noise, the assault on the senses that Ha Noi can sometimes be for the newcomer or the claustrophobic.
But the real reason people come here is the steak. The gigantic 300gram New Zealand Waikato grass-fed 90 day sirloin came served beneath potato gratin atop a bed of beautifully sauteed garden vegetables. The steak was cooked to perfection (medium rare), succulent and seasoned juste la bonne quantite. The gratin was crispy on the outside, soft and buttery on the inside. It lended itself to a harmony of bitey flavours balanced by the sweetness of the vegetables.
At VND525,000, it wasn't the cheapest option on the menu, but it certainly wasn't the most expensive. If you really feel like dropping a bundle, take a run at the Australian Wagyu Tomahawk Steak. At 1.6kg and priced at VND7,000,000 you'd be hard pressed to find a better cut of steak in South East Asia.
Jackson's is an escape and an indulgence, but that doesn't mean sensible options aren't available for the more modest budget. The popular 'Chef Selections' offer a wide range of decadent meals, ranging from the lamb rack with roast baby chat potatoes and ratatouille (VND585,000), to slow cooked Jack Daniel bbq ribs served with fat chips (VND535,000), to even a simple angus beef spaghetti bolognaise (VND255,000).
You'll probably struggle (as I did) to choose from the delectable sides and starters that are available alongside the wide selection of grass/grain/wheatgrass/spirulina fed cows on the menu. Few people can hear the words "truffle mash", "garlic butter" or "pan seared scallops with cauliflower puree, parma ham and tomato concasse" without needing a drop cloth - myself included.
Which brings me to the service. When we arrived, our waitress confidently introduced herself, asked our names and politely complimented our (frankly, terrible) Vietnamese. She was charming and engaging as were all the wait staff we encountered throughout the evening. They were friendly, without seeming forced and it was evident that not only had they received top notch training, but they actually enjoyed themselves.
Staff spoke fantastic English and ably gave clear descriptions of items on the menu - even providing honest recommendations of popular favourites and side dishes. The restaurant is a testament to an old adage - good service can be just as important as good food.
Jackson's also offers a diverse selection of international wines to satisfy all palettes. Having left our spare VND40,500,000 at home, we shied away from the bottle of Chateau Mouton Rothschild c.2007 and opted for a glass of the humble, yet flavoursome house red - a soft San Pedro 35 cabernet sauvignon from Chile's Lontue Valley.
Leaving Jackson's, I felt conflicted. I was heading out of the oasis and back into the throws of my chaotic Hanoian existence. It was raining and the traffic was as crazy as ever. But I was comforted to know that should and when I need to, there is a slice of sophisticated refuge at my fingertips... albeit with a hefty price-tag. — VNS