For GOURMANDS, it is easy to stay infinitely satiated in Ho Chi Minh City from morning till night. Whether it’s 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, whose offerings 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 impossible to keep up with all the hottest spots, so we’ve gathered a list of the best restaurants 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 28 year old, 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 diced black olives, truffles and bitter spicy la lot leaves, and a pho-inspired beef consommé accompanied by market fresh tiger prawns from 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 chick 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 the colourful, Asia inspired painting of Helene Kling, an artist who has lived in Vietnam since 1996.
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 Three. From its perch on the 23floor 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 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 shine 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 at London’s Michelin starred Chez Bruce.
COU 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 single night. Reservations are absolutely essential, as are recommendations from the wait staff considering the mammoth menu, which features page upon page of classic Vietnamese home Cooking. First time diners should sample the excellent, silky homemade tofu, crispy seabass topped with a tangy passion fruit sauce and the caramelized pork in clay pot, which melts in your mouth. Newly opened sister restaurant Cuc Gach Cafe, modeled on a 1970’s Vietnamese home, is a popular spot for its set lunch, which changes daily.
Grandma’s home cooking is also the theme at this charring, 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 Hanoin 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 mustered 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 nouc mam dipping 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.
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 new Saigon outlet has brought to the city certainly is. It’s a must for any meat lover seeking the perfect cut of beef or lamb. Since amiable, chatty brothers Nathan and Dinni Himi opened El Gaucho 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 chair and tables, exposed steel beams, black and white photos on the walls and stellar services, which is carried out by an experienced team of servers from around the world. Along with excellent food and wine, of course, its 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 U.S., with the American prime rib being a house specialty. 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. An outlet in Hanoi just opened and a Hoi an location opens later this year.
Thirty three year old Yosuke Masuko left a job as a venture capitalist in IT to pursue his great passion: handmade, wood wood fired Pizza. He opened Pizza 4P’s down a quaint alley off 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 cosy, with stone block walls, pale grey wooden floors and aubergine hued accents. Naturally, a grand pizza oven stands front and centre, where guests gather around a circular, marble table and watch the red Ray Ban wearing Japanese chef, Yoshi create his masterpieces. Classic renditions like a addictive margarita are topped with a 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 his patrons about health food as a social platform. Every month a contest is held for a new pizza recipe, with the winning entry becoming a permanent item on the restaurant’s ever growing menu.
BOBBY CHINN SAIGON
February saw 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 features small plates inspired by Chinn’s travels throughout Asia and beyond: Moroccan bisteeya 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.