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Café Hanoi

A new Vietnamese-influenced restaurant adds colour and life to Auckland’s port precinct. Andrea Stevens drops in for a bite to eat.

Britomart’s urban renewal has picked up pace recently with the imminent completion of two substantial new buildings, and refurbishment of several 19th Century merchant warehouses.

Café Hanoi inhabits the ground floor of Excelsior House, a historic commercial building which Cheshire Architects have fully refurbished and linked with its neighbour Stanbeth House.

Ground floors of the two buildings have been extended northward in the form of steel and glass conservatories. This connects the restaurant to the street and adjacent public open space. Around the corner, a discreet sign and entry door off Commerce Street leads visitors into its surreal interior.


Designer Nat Cheshire conceived the layout of Hanoi as a theatre: “The kitchen pass is the stage ablaze with action. A long chef’s table is front row, the ubiquitous fours form the stalls, flanked either side by the more intimate gallery and conservatory.”

He has provided diverse experiences within the volume, and made it as comfortable and stimulating for a single diner as it might be for a party of ten.


What I love most about Hanoi is its raw concrete structure – the building and her tormented past are laid bare. On the sticky Auckland night I visited, the scent of lemongrass, swaying paper lanterns, flickering candlelight, and the rich patina of old plaster, evoked a different time and place.


“We did not consider a didactic reconstruction of Hanoi’s diners,” says Cheshire. “Instead, colours, textures, proportions, orientations and atmospheres were abstracted and re-expressed in a collection of new materials and systems.”

Cheshire encapsulates and summarises his design direction for the project in two words – ‘humble special’. These words imply balance and contrast and their story is told in brick against paint, concrete against paper, timber against steel. But it’s not all natural patinas and earthiness; he applied a shocking blood red on chairs and table bases.


“We have tried to strike a fine balance between the elegance necessary for great dining, and the comfort and exhilaration of decay.”


Café Hanoi

Photography kindly supplied by Jeremy Toth