Where to eat and drink: Sapa

Sapa: Where to eat and drink

If you stroll down Cau May, Muong Hoa or Fansipan streets you’ll find foreigner-friendly places as thick as the evening mist. There’s little to differentiate between the menus; perhaps if some of them specialised a bit more they might do better, but it seems everyone’s trying to offer a bit of everything. If you’re after more authentic local fare, head to the area near the bus station, which is laden with rice joints.

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If you want a really special setting for a romantic dinner, head up the steps by T-Bone and you’ll find Cha Pa Garden Restaurant, where a beautiful setting is complemented by a delicious though not extensive menu and a lengthy wine list. Breakfast and lunch are also served. Meals can be enjoyed in the cosy restaurant or al fresco, in the lush gardens, when weather permits. It’s pricey but not outrageous.

A well-established wining and dining establishment, Delta Italian Restaurant serves a full range of Italian dishes, including good stone-baked pizzas, comforting house-made pasta dishes and a reasonable selection of meat and fish. The wine list is good. The upstairs area houses a pool table and dartboard, so this is a decent spot to enjoy a pizza and a bit of competitive spirit with friends, although it’s a bit pricier than other options in town.

Away from the Cau May madness, Le Gecko Restaurant on Thach Son near the post office claims to be world known for its French cuisine, but it’s clearly not relying on that fact as its menu features global cuisine including burgers and pizzas, although, yes, they also serve up a small selection of French mains and omnipresent Croque Monsieur. The drinks list is enticing, with an interesting range of juice combinations and smoothies. It’s certainly a good spot for a drink.

Just up the hill on Thac Bac, at the top of the stairs from Fansipan, Baguette and Chocolat is part of the Hoa Sua training school which teaches job skills to disadvantaged youth. But that aside, this is a good place in its own right. The atmosphere is cosy, with a big fireplace to curl up next to on a cold day, and a very good variety of snacks, main meals, tasty pastries and desserts to keep your tummy warm as well. You might take them up on one of their picnic baskets if you’re headed out on a trek.

You used to be able to pick up a kebab and a bottle of bia hanoi at the street stalls along Fansipan or Pham Xuan Huan streets, but on our last visit these were nowhere to be seen, so we opted instead for one of the barbecue places inside the Am Thuc Sapa foodcourt, north of the square. You pick your kebabs from the display out front and they’re cooked up for you on a barbecue and brought to your table. They do have a menu but it’s easier to point.

At the lower end of Fansipan Street, jutting out over the valley, sits Cafe in the Clouds. It doesn’t look like much, but the views are astonishing and the pho is damn good too. The owner is very friendly and can help with onward travel arrangements. A recommended lunch or beer stop, well located for when you’ve walked back up from Cat Cat Village.

Hua and Nay Restaurant has Vietnamese signage, is popular with Vietnamese visitors, and staff also speak Vietnamese, but the menu here still features pizzas and sandwiches. We suggest sticking with the Vietnamese food, although the banana pancake went down very well. If you’re just after a drink, this is a place to try the local wine or beer, with six Vietnamese beers on the menu alongside apple and plum wine.

Nature Bar and Grill has a very pleasant atmosphere, with friendly staff, dark wood everywhere, including the A-frame ceiling, and a very comfortable common area around an open fire for cold winter evenings. The menu promises much the same grub as you’ll find elsewhere, along with some tempting breakfast options; we’ve not been disappointed with anything we’ve tried here.

Up a short flight of stairs, above a handicraft shop or two, sits Gerbera. Once a small place tucked away behind Cau May, Gerbera has taken over what was once the Pine Restaurant and delivers standard Vietnamese and Western fare but on a large covered terrace, which is a pleasant spot to set up shop for a while and enjoy the activity on Cau May from a safe distance. The mushroom omelette is a flavoursome breakfast choice. Don’t rely on the WiFi.

Located near the junction of Cau May and Muong Hoa Roads, The Hill Station is in the thick of things, but provides a cosy respite from the streets and hawkers outside. Set on two floors, with a narrow open staircase in between, The Hill Station is a cafe-cum-deli-cum-wine bar and specialises in platters of cold cuts and cheeses, with a good range of both. Platters are served up with plenty of delicious crusty bread, or opt for a sandwich, baguette or tasty panini—all with decent amounts of filling, a side salad and a serving of Dijon-style mustard, which really adds a kick. If you’re heading off on a trek or to the train, take away picnics can be prepared: a sandwich, cake, drink costs 185,000 VND. Downstairs has comfy couches and tables and chairs, as well as a fireplace, and four small tables are located on the upper, mezzanine floor. You won’t get a valley or mountain view but it’s a good people-watching spot, with a large glass window along the wall on the upper floor. This is just the sort of place Sapa has been lacking: a cosy joint with quality food and drink to set up base when it’s cold or foggy.

Their Hill Station Signature Restaurant, located round the corner on Fansipan, is well worth checking out. It’s a truly beautiful setting, with fantastic valley views, the menu is innovative and the wine list wide enough to please any palate. Choose between a seat on the floor and a standard table; we’re not usually up for sitting on the floor but the bamboo cushions gave sufficient lift for a bit of comfort and the good wine helped too. We particularly enjoyed the smoked pork belly and the tofu two ways.

A new Sapa dining opening worth checking out in Sapa is The Village Noshery, which offers great coffee and Vietnamese and Western dishes in eclectic, interesting surrounds. Artwork is all original, handcrafted with locally sourced products, by locally skilled artisans. Nothing matches but it somehow comes together in an appealing display. The restaurant is open from 06:30 and is a good place to grab breakfast upon arrival in Sapa, with options such as french toast with caramelised bananas, sweet corn fritters, and Vietnamese pho and bun thang. Coffee is good too — and you’ll need that after the train journey. Vietnamese dishes and a small selection of Western food are available from 11:30 until 22:00. The Vietnamese “BBQ tapas”, including lemongrass satay sticks or grilled purple aubergine. For mains choose from wok-fried or claypot dishes or something lighter such as a green papaya salad, pho or a big bowl of noodles. Make sure you leave room for dessert. Even on a cold winters’s night, the chocolate fudge cake with a scoop of vanilla ice cream went down very well. Or pop in during the day for a cake and coffee after checking out the display near the front door. The only downside to The Village Noshery is that despite its cosy appearance, it can get a bit chilly, as it’s a big space, so if you’re there in winter sit near a coal burner or ask for one to be bought over before settling in. Disclaimer: The author is friends with the owner of The Village Noshery.

Sapa isn’t much for nightlife and by evening, most people are weary from travel and trekking anyway. It makes sense to pick a place to stay with a pleasant terrace, good views and good brews where you can just sit and swap tales with your fellow travellers. But you can shake things up, if only slightly, with a visit to Hmong Sister Bar, on Muong Hoa opposite Bamboo Sapa Hotel, which offers a pool table, cards and Jenga, eclectic music and good deals on beer. It keeps going until after midnight, but do make sure ahead of time that your hotel will let you back in when you stagger home after midnight.

Baguette and Chocolat: Thac Bac. T: (020) 3871 766 http://www.hoasuaschool.com
Barbecue restaurants: Fansipan St, north of the square
Cafe in the Clouds: 58 Fansipan St
Cha Pa Garden Restaurant: 23b Cau May T: (020) 387 2907 http://www.chapagarden.com
Delta Italian Restaurant: 33 Cay May T: (020) 387 1799
Le Gecko Restaurant: 4 Ham Rong St T: (020) 3871 504;(0903) 210 477 http://www.legeckosapa.com/
Hmong Sisters: 31 Muong Hoa St T: (020) 387 3370;(0123) 469 0501
Hua and Nay Restaurant: 29 Cau May T: (020) 387 3329
Nature Bar and Grill: 24 Cau May St, near the steps to the market T: (020) 387 2094;(020) 350 2074;(0912) 270 068
Nature View: 51 Fansipan St T: (020) 3871 438
The Gerbera: 23 Cau May St T: (020) 3871 556
The Hill Station: 7 Muong Hoa Street, Sapa T: (020) 388 7111;(0982) 267 518 http://thehillstation.com/
The Hill Station Signature Restaurant: 37 Fansipan St T: (020) 388 7111
The Village Noshery: 42 Cau May Street, Sapa T: (020) 6264 027 http://thevillagenoshery.com/
Viet Emotion Restaurant Tapas Cafe: 27 Cau May St T: (020) 387 2559, (0912) 032 908 http://www.vietemotion.com

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