Cafe Hanoi 2.0 opens with thanks to Cheshire Architects
Interviewed by Adam Bryce
Photographed by Sam Hartnett
Cafe Hanoi celebrates its 10th birthday and the turn of the decade sees the Auckland dining institution on the move. We talk to co-owner Krishna Botica on the new, Cheshire Architects-designed space.
For anyone who hasn’t dined at Cafe Hanoi, tell us about the original concept for the restaurant.
The original concept was born out of the passion of our head chef for Vietnam, the Vietnamese culture and its unique cuisine. We wanted to share this passion with the New Zealand public and complement it with modern cocktails and New Zealand wine.
The hospitality industry has been hugely affected by the pandemic. How have you adjusted to running restaurants in a new world?
Doubling-down on our relationships within the team, cross-training everyone and asking them all to focus on what people need at the moment — respite from the troubles of the world in our care.
Opening a new Cafe Hanoi in these times seems like a risky move. Tell us why you’ve made this decision and how the restaurant will differ from the original.
Well, yes! But the lease was signed, our old lease had been reassigned before the first lockdown, so there was no turning back. The restaurant is essentially in the same area, has a focus on a more refined food and drink offering, which is set to woo people into a more intimate understanding of Vietnamese cuisine. The aesthetic focuses the diner on the kitchen operations even more than ever behind a backdrop of Vietnamese architecture and colour schemes.
Can we expect menu changes?
Absolutely. We have tweaked some old favourites, developed modern approaches to dishes that inspired our executive chef, Nathan Houpapa, on his last trip to Vietnam, and we’ve taken a fresh look at the French influence on the cuisine.
Cafe Hanoi isn’t your only restaurant — you have a network of three Asian-inspired dining experiences. How do you balance the running of these different locations?
At times this has been a challenge. At each venue, we work at the senior level and try to instill in them our values so that they can run their teams as if they were us. Ongoing coaching is required and, of course, presence is essential so that the team knows us personally and feel that we listen to the individual needs of each business depending on its challenges and opportunities.
Why Asian food? You’ve been in the industry a long time, in different capacities, but all of your restaurants share a common theme.
Asian food has a layer of complexity that we just don’t have in traditional European cuisine due to its attention to texture, balance and colour. We find that, without the cloying elements of dairy that European cuisine uses in abundance, you have the room to play with other parts of the palate in a far more nuanced way; for example, sweet and salty, sweet and sour. Asian cuisine also works incredibly well with cocktails, which we felt had been a missed opportunity by other Asian eateries around town.
How can we expect the industry to recover from its current difficult times? Do you see the future of hospitality changing drastically?
Our industry is robust as a whole but is taking the hardest hit it has had in over a decade. Restaurants are an emotional and psychological barometer of their local communities and economies and as such, in times like these, are extremely vulnerable. It will recover as quickly or slowly as each community in the regions. Apart from more uptick in venues offering takeaways and delivery into their business models, I don’t see it changing drastically as each business has so many nuances and levers that it can pull. For the medium term, the suburban eateries will do well as people withdraw into their local communities more. CBD restaurants will have ongoing challenges if we go in and out of alert levels sucking people out of the concentrated urban areas.
The hospitality industry is, traditionally, a very male-dominated one — do you see a trend towards a more inclusive culture? What challenges have you experienced as a woman in this industry?
I actually believe that our industry is a great leveller and has a wonderfully inclusive culture. There are many famous chefs around the world, as well as both male and female famous hosts. In my experience, gender hasn’t mattered. As long as you have a head for business and a passion for what you do, then you have an opportunity to succeed. My challenges as a female in leadership have often been alleviated by emotional intelligence and an ability to accept people for who they are while trying to inspire them to be the best version of themselves. Being a people person has been undeniably helpful in this way.