Of course, Hanoi is the administrative capital of the country; however, many argue that it is also the cultural capital as well. The Hoan Kiem and West Lake areas of this Northern Vietnamese city are packed with things to see and do; culturally and historically it is extremely important. The city has seen many influences over the years. Chinese, Japanese and French influences are everywhere. Less so the Italian influence, though that is not to say that great Italian food is off the menu. There are some terrific Italian eateries in this city.
A strong recommendation would be the utterly lovely Da Paolo West Lake Italian Restaurant. This is where the local Italian expat community comes to sample great cooking at a home away from home. You should try their risotto and air-dried salted beef with lemon, olive oil, black pepper and Parmesan cheese; This is a real winner.
The culture in and around Hanoi can feel at times almost as though you are in a European City. Strolling round the West Lake on a hot summer’s evening does feel as though you are almost in Italy. Hanoi is gaining quite a reputation as a great Asian city. For years it was somewhat in the shadow of Saigon, but appears to be emerging, eyes blinking, into the 21st century. Part of that development is the burgeoning tourist trade and the huge benefits that brings. If great Italian food is your favourite you will not struggle to find it.
If you are looking for a great Italian but your partner wishes to stay native, try Fragrance Cafe and Restaurant in the Old Quarter. This tiny fronted little place serves amazing Italian, Mediterranean and Vietnamese food to a very appreciative clientele. You can munch away at the great pasta dishes while your partner samples delicious pho or spring rolls. This is the perfect compromise for couples with disparate tastes.