Located in what was once a villa on To Ngoc Van, the restaurant is simple and elegant. With Italian-style tiles on the floor, and no loss of natural light, the three-storey space makes you feel welcome as soon as you walk through the door.
The name Cugini translates as ‘cousins’, a nod to the family atmosphere which the restaurant is trying to cultivate.
“The emphasis here is on the service,” says co-owner Nico Cettomoro. “Anyone can make you great food, and sell it at reasonable prices, but good service is different. If we can’t provide you with that, then what’s the point?”
Simple, Beautiful Ingredients
“Italian food is all about taking as little as possible of the best ingredients you can find, and putting them together in the simplest way,” says Nico.
“Our menu is very small, because we want to ensure that all the ingredients in the kitchen are as fresh as can be. Most of them are imported from Italy, and we make everything in house, all of the pasta, the bread, everything except for the ice cream, which is from Gelato Italia.”
The kitchen hosts 12 chefs, three of whom are Italian, one of whom is French, one Filipino, and the remainder Vietnamese.
We tried the risotto capra e cavallo (VND650,000), a dish made to order, which serves two people due to the amount of preparation required. The dish is infused with goat’s cheese, a little red wine, and cured horse meat.
Several strong flavours battled for dominion in this dish, creating an overall balance that leaves you wishing it was made to serve three.
We also tried the estiva pizza (VND280,000), which translates to summer pizza. The thin crust was topped with mozzarella, zucchini, confit cherry tomatoes, Parma ham and fresh whole basil leaves. It certainly deserves its name, being light enough to enjoy on a summer afternoon, without leaving your stomach running low.
Pasta dishes cost between VND180,000 and VND320,000, with each individual dish using a different type of pasta. Antipasti dishes go for between VND80,000 and VND290,000.
Cugini has found an excellent balance of simplicity and detail, with the fine attention to service giving them an advantage over many other restaurants around the capital.
Cugini Ristorante Italiano is located at 67 To Ngoc Van, Tay Ho, Hanoi. Opening hours are 11am to 10.30pm.
Photos by teigue john blokpoel