Upon entering, it’s hard not to dig Cobra Lily’s two-storey space – the skeleton of an old shikumen building, it’s designed with Brooklyn-meets-Hanoi warehouse flair. Every element is kissed by Cobra Lily, a fictional spy whose storyline is scattered throughout the restaurant and its menu. Its lounge-style atmosphere makes for an ideal place to sit and enjoy the stellar drinks menu.
On that menu, you’ll find signature cocktails, dressed to impress, with clever names to accompany them. The Tom Khallins (last picture above), an elixir of coconut milk and puree, kaffir lime leaf- and lemongrass-infused gins, is reminiscent of a honeyed bowl of fragrant tom yum soup (and it’s served up like one, too). Tokyo Lights shines in a tangy, frothy Japanese-style teacup of kaffir gin, egg whites and matcha syrup dusted with matcha powder. The drinks menu also features speciality gin and tonics, like ruby-hued Meyer lemon and hibiscus petal, served unassembled with a little apothecary flask of gin and a perfume bottle of bitters. Though likely to please G&T fans, it’s more about novel presentation, less about unique flavour.
Cobra Lily’s pan-Asian food tour begins with small plates. The Love me or Hate me edamame, tossed in a salty baijiu-truffle-and-black-bean dressing, is served ice cold straight from the fridge. We get our hands messy with the Mini Lemongrass Carnitas Bánh Mì – tiny riffs on the classic Vietnamese sandwich overstuffed with saucy, slow-simmered shredded pork, topped with strands of fresh lemongrass and Cobra Lily’s house- made pickles. Tangy carnitas drippings mix with the sweet tamarind aioli drizzled over the top of the sammies, and we shamelessly lick up every last drop that trickles down our fingers.
A few picks just from the front of the menu would make for a complete meal, but that doesn’t stop us from hitting the main meat dishes. The Beach Holiday in Hanoi throws us back to sitting on plastic stools, tucking into bowls of bún thit nuong – smoked pork neck with lemongrass caramel, piled on a mound of rice noodles with a helping of fresh herbs. The kitchen’s take on a butter chicken curry, Ode to Aslam’s Butter Chicken, serves up two serious pieces of grilled bird, marinated in spices and yoghurt, with a side of buttered whey gravy – rich, creamy and punchy.
The desserts at Cobra Lily are all-stars and choosing just one is something to agonise about. The show-stopping Feng Li Shu Taiwanese Pineapple Cake is lust-worthy: moist cake atop a pool of creamy lemon curd, with pineapple IPA compote, pillowy folds of almond ice cream and crispy-crumbly sprinkles of salted duck egg powder. It’s big enough to share, but trust us, you won’t want to.
While a few dishes aren’t particularly inspiring – the Version 2.0 Sichuan Cold Noodles are a hard miss, the Bang Bang Bánh Cun falls short – there’s a lot to love here. Like the lovely, but nonetheless carnivorous, plant that is the restaurant’s namesake, Cobra Lily is a femme fatale... Ah, how we’ve fallen for her, and it’s dangerous. Delectably dangerous.
By Elysia Bagley