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Saigon’s Must Eats


Naomi Lindt discovers another world of dining options, some of which will surprise you and your tastebuds. Photographed by Christopher Wise

Published on Apr 12, 2012

For gourmands, it is easy to stay infinitely satiated in Ho Chi Minh City from morning till night. Whether it’s an early morning bowl of freshly barbecued pork served over noodles and heaps of herbs cooked up by a street vendor or a decadent, multi-course French meal rendered by a renowned chef and served in the most refined of surroundings, gastronomic pleasures in the city abound. And now, a host of new eateries that span the globe from Naples to Argentina are drawing on the city’s entrepreneurial, cosmopolitan roots more than ever. Like so much in the city these days, it’s nearly impossible to keep up with all the hottest spots, so we’ve gathered a list of the best new openings to tempt your palate.

Housed in a renovated warehouse along a quiet side street of bustling District One, French-managed Flow brings together many of life’s pleasures—fine food, fine art, fine wines. The classically trained Vietnamese chef at the helm, Hung Nguyen, brings a youthful, contemporary approach to his France-meets-Vietnam menu, with dishes like seared lamb served with finely chopped black olives, truffles, and bitter, spicy la lot leaves and a pho-inspired beef consommé accompanied by market-fresh tiger prawns from the island of Phu Quoc. There’s also an array of traditional homemade pastas with ingredients like goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes, and decadent desserts—strawberry mascarpone served in a cocktail glass; pannacotta with an espresso reduction. The industrial-chic surroundings are similarly lavish yet unconventional, with concrete floors, red and black velvet seating, and a long white marble bar backed by dozens of bottles of wine. Walls serve as an art gallery for Hélène Kling’s colorful, Asia-inspired paintings, an artist who’s lived in Vietnam since 1996. 88 Ho Tung Mau; +84 8 3915 3691; dinner for two VND1,000,000;

Pizza 4P’s
Yosuke Masuko left a job as a venture capitalist in IT to pursue his great passion: handmade, wood-fired pizza. He opened Pizza 4Ps down a quaint alley off of Le Thanh Ton in October, the culmination of an obsession that’s included pizza-themed trips to Naples and building stone ovens for sport back in his native Japan. The restaurant’s sleek quarters are chic yet cozy, with stone block walls, pale grey wooden floors, and aubergine-hued accents. Naturally, a grand pizza oven stands front and center, where guests gather around a circular, marble table and watch the red Ray Ban-wearing Japanese chef, Yoshi TK, create his masterpieces. Classic renditions like the addictive margarita are topped with the homemade buffalo mozzarella, while gutsier versions might feature local specialties like edible flowers or Japanese flourishes like teriyaki chicken. Not only are the pies to die for, but the concept here is pretty neat, too: the restaurant’s name stands for “Platform of Personal Pizza for Peace,” conveying Masuko’s intention to educate patrons about healthy food as a social platform. Every month a contest is held for a new pizza recipe, with the winner becoming a permanent item on the restaurant’s menu. 8/15 Le Thanh Ton; +84 8 3822 9838; dinner for two VND700,000;

Cuc Gach Quan
While many of Saigon’s new eateries channel contemporary spaces in cities like Bangkok or Singapore, Cuc Gach Quan is refreshingly old school. Architect Tran Binh designed the multi-storied eatery in an old French colonial villa in a remote corner of District One to look and feel like his grandmother’s home in the countryside, with mismatched wooden tables, vintage dishes, and rickety bookcases. Apparently, his nostalgia for the past is striking a chord for many a Saigonese, judging by the packed tables and bustling atmosphere every night—reservations are essential, as are recommendations from the waitstaff considering the mammoth menu, which features pages upon pages of classic Vietnamese home cooking (there are more than 30 types of vegetables alone). First time diners should sample the excellent, silky homemade tofu, crispy seabass topped with a tangy passion fruit sauce, and the caramelized pork in claypot, which melts in your mouth. Newly opened sister restaurant Cuc Gach Café, modeled on a 1970s Vietnamese home, is a popular spot for its set lunch, which changes daily. 10 Dang Tat; +84 8 3848 0144; dinner for two VND600,000; Cuc Gach Cafe, 79 Phan Ke Binh, +84 8 3911 0120

Mam Son
Grandma’s home cooking is also the theme at this charming, two-storey restaurant along a narrow shopping street in District One. Opened by brother and sister Ngoc Tu and Tuan Giang, Mam Son, whose name refers to the traditional red lacquer tray introduced during Tet, focuses on Hanoian cuisine—the softer, more delicate, fresh-herb reliant cousin to the more pungent dishes of the south. In a renovated colonial shop house and surrounded by mustard-yellow walls, ornate colonial tiles and cherry-red silk lamps, diners are served an artfully presented array of Northern dishes in an Old World setting. Fresh, hand-wrapped Hanoi spring rolls are stuffed with cilantro, chive, shrimp and pork and served with a nuoc mam dippin sauce, while the signature dish, cha ca—grilled fish—is topped with dill, spring onion, peanuts and shrimp sauce. A bowl of the bun rieu cua—pounded crabs collected from rice fields served with crab roe and a tomato-based broth—will make you feel like you’re slurping away in the heart of Hanoi. 35 Ton That Hiep; +84 8 3915 3653; dinner for two VND500,000

El Gaucho Saigon
A successful brand with outlets around the world, El Gaucho’s concept is not new—but the quality of meats that the Saigon outlet has brought to the city certainly is, and is a must for any meat-lover seeking that perfect cut of beef or lamb. Since amiable, chatty brothers Nathan and Dini Himi opened El Gaucho in March across from the Park Hyatt, the place has quickly become an expat favorite. Regulars cite the restaurant’s warm, welcoming ambiance—exposed brick walls, dark brown leather booths, mismatched wooden chairs and tables, exposed steel beams, black-and-white photos on the walls, stellar service, which is carried out by an experienced team of servers from around the world, and excellent food and wine, of course, as the winning combination that merits repeat visits. Though the place is themed on a contemporary Argentine steak house with features like a handmade charcoal grill, prime cuts are imported from Australia and the US, with the American prime rib being a house specialty (be sure to check out the huge cuts of meat displayed like fine pastries on the ground floor). There are nearly 60 vintages from around the world on offer here, which can be enjoyed at one of the candle-lit tables or at the large, wood and steel bar paired with an order of beef carpaccio or wild mushroom empanadas. 5D Nguyen Sieu, +84 8 3825 1879; dinner for two VND1,500,000

With a name like shri—a Hindu word for god or illumination—this restaurant and lounge certainly set its ambitions high when it opened two years ago atop the Centec Tower in District 3. From its perch on the 23rd floor and the commanding, 360-degree views of Saigon’s twinkling cityscape from the white-linen clad dining room and frangipani-lined outdoor terrace, Shri doesn’t disappoint. The uber-sophisticated setting is matched with an equally urbane menu, whose contemporary European treasures include a 200-gram Wagyu beef tenderloin accompanied by seasonal vegetables and a choice of eight sauces ranging from horseradish cream to wild mushroom, a sea bass wrapped in Serrano ham with olive oil mash and gremolata, and a pepper duck breast served with gratin dauphinois. There’s also a number of simple yet creative dishes for smaller appetites, like a roast lamb and arugula salad or a papardelle pasta with sun-dried tomatoes and ricotta cheese. Everything simply shines here, from the gorgeously presented meals to the sparkling glassware to the 200-plus selection of Old and New World wines, handpicked by general manager and sommelier Ashley Nichols, who trained as a sommelier at London’s Michelin-starred Chez Bruce. 72-74 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai; +84 8 3827 9631;dinner for two VND1,200,000;

Bobby Chinn Saigon
This month sees the long-awaited grand opening of Bobby Chinn Saigon, the second installation of the acclaimed TV personality and celebrity chef’s eponymous restaurants. In a moody, dimly lit space hung with contemporary Vietnamese art and draped in silk, the menu will feature small plates inspired by Chinn’s travels throughout Asia and beyond: Moroccan Bisteyya (braised squab wrapped in crispy almond-scented rice paper), sticky rice dumplings filled with mung bean puree, green tea smoked duck with pomegranate duck au jus, filet mignon spring rolls. Customized tasting menus will also be available. Sustainability is a priority at Chinn’s new restaurant, with organic produce and onsite purified water to minimize the use of plastic bottles. Kumho Asiana Plaza Saigon, 39 Le Duan Street; +84-8/6291-7788; dinner for two VND1,500,000;


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