OPERA (*****): A top ten best restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City, located in the ritzy Park Hyatt Saigon, this contemporary trattoria with a touch of elegance opens to the street with a pleasant terrace where reservation is imperative: who wouldn’t dream of a relaxing lunch or dinner al fresco with a view of the colonial Opera House?
The new Chef de Cuisine Matteo Fracalossi, with 20 years of experience, improved his passion for cooking at Villa Crespi, trained by two-Michelin-star chef Antonino Cannavacciuolo. He then worked in the best restaurants around the world before he joined the ark Hyatt Saigon. Though his cuisine, prepared in the large open-kitchen, tends to be influenced by a cool Northern Italian influence, he is also an expert on pasta from Central Italy and authentic Neapolitan pizza, made fresh from a wood-fired oven.
ordered the “Business Lunch Set Menu”, available from Monday to Friday,
11:30am till 2:30pm. For approximately USD 20, which is great value for
a five-star hotel, we had three courses, with a selection of 4 -
5 dishes per course. We started with Fried Eggplant Roll, Chilled
Tomato Sauce and Basil Pesto. Light and perfumed, ideally accompanied
with lukewarm, mouth-watering focaccia bread sipped in artisanal
ultra-virgin olive oil. As a main, we were so happy to see that the
chef included one of our favorite pizzas, with Prosciutto Ham, Funghi
(mushrooms) and Mozzarella on a dispendious toping. The tomato sauce
was 100% home-made, and the paste was crispy and slightly burned as we
like. The portion would have been enough to feed two gourmets. This
pizza costed about USD10 on the extensive a
A small, good pizzeria in Saigon would charge more or less the same
paired our lunch with a bottle of Chianti Riserva Piccini Collezione
Oro 2011 (USD 60 / bottle). One serving of
freshly brewed coffee was included in the set price.
for lunch 11:30 am to 2:30 pm Monday to Saturday; 12:00 pm to 3:00 pm
Sunday. Dinner daily, 6:00 pm - 10:30 pm
LA VILLA (*****): The best French restaurant by Tripadvisor, which is a challenge in a gastronomic city where fine dining restaurants are plentiful, this prosperous pool-villa in the heart of high-end District 2 saves the gourmet the cost of a plane ticket to Paris. A 15 minutes taxi drive from the touristic District 1 makes you feel like in France, indeed.
Thierry Mounon's international experience in five-star restaurants, from Avignon to Bora Bora, then from Mui Ne to Saigon, could have produced one more technical chef, marketing a fusion or neo-French cuisine in one of those trendy lounge-restaurants flourishing in New York, Barcelona, London or Sidney. By humility or cleverness, he preferred to keep on with tradition: transforming himself into the ambassador of “French Cuisine Bourgeoise” in Saigon.
From the so classic and authentically romantic dining room, featuring heavy curtains, prosperous furniture, and one of the finest cutlery in town, till the specialties available a la carte or by the amazingly affordable lunch menu “De la Petite Villa” (USD 33), we were so excited to invite our Vietnamese host to virtually cross the oceans and the mountains, sitting like in a posh, deliciously old-school “auberge” in Lyon, Roanne, Avignon or one of those sleepy cities from our French provinces were eating well is part of the culture. If many restaurants in Saigon serve a premium cuisine, no one can beat the authenticity provided by La Villa. No marketing, no trick was used to produce this divine and refined impression: Chef Thierry just forgot he is a chef, and rather behaves like a host. Assisted by Tina, his charming wife, acting like a most attentive “Maîtresse de Maison”.
His cuisine is generous, mixing skill and heart, and making much impression from the very beginning of the dinner which started, of course, with a glass of refreshing “Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte, Brut Réserve” (USD 19 by the glass), presented in style with refined canapés. Produced in Chouilly co-operative vineyard, this best seller Champagne nicely paired our “Beef Consommé with Madeira & Japanese Scallops”. A light and elegant “amuse-bouche”, it prepared our palate to the best yet to come.
The starter couldn’t be anything but Foie Gras: our guest was Vietnamese, and the first question she asked was: “-Is there goose liver on the menu? ”. We got it pan-fried, in Escoffier's tradition: with fig poached in Muscat wine, and salted honey caramel (USD 25). Bernard Loiseau cooked it almost the same way at La Côte d’Or, in Saulieu: simple and elegant. It was sweetly paired with “Moscato d’Asti, Cascinetta Vietti, Piemonte, 2012” (USD 14 / glass). Very aromatic.
The sea was aristocratically represented by a freshly imported “French Lobster from Brittany”: exquisitely, carefully, lovingly roasted by Thierry with olive oil, orange, and anis butter. We like lobster with aniseed or a pinch of vanilla. This is a luxurious delicacy for Vietnamese; but such an amazing dish is well worth USD 76. Great dish pairs with great wine: we had it with “Chablis, Joseph Drouhin, Réserve de Vaudon, 2014” (USD 75, by bottle only), a favorite Burgundy in France and around the world, it comes from family vineyards situated in the Valley of Vauvillien, not far from the Grand Crus.
Unexpected in Asia, but a tradition in France on a multi-dishes banquet, we got an “Interlude”: actually, a refreshing “Trou Normand” (Green Apple Sorbet with Calvados”) timely set to stabilize both our palate and stomach in the middle of the dinner.
Ready for the meat, we experienced a super tender and juicy “New Zealand Venison” (from the recommended Discovery Menu at 95 USD per person), which came presented in two thick, medium rare pieces of tenderloin, accompanied with a well-balanced green pepper sauce, and mashed potatoes. One of the best meat which we had in Saigon, it had this so-French “je ne sais quoi”, and tasted different from what we got from further fantastic steakhouses like El Gaucho. Paired with an exceptional “Chateauneuf du Pape, Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe, 2012” (included only in wine pairing menu during our visit), one of French gourmets’ favorite wines, this was so reminiscent of the rich Sunday lunch best cuts from the butcher, cooked by our mother after the mass. Traveling back in time is one more bonus at La Villa.
One of the best staff in town, mainly feminine the evening of our visit, pampered us between each dish, inquiring about our opinion on the cuisine and wines. The restaurant was full, like always, but Tina and her team didn’t seem much impressed, always ready to give ad hoc suggestions with that authentic kindness characteristic of La Villa. Few restaurants in France could employ so many staff nowadays, and this is sometimes little painful to see that it takes a ten hours flight to find in Saigon what you hardly find nowadays in Paris for a much higher bill.
We have been presented a nice selection of the best French farm cheese, traditionally by the trolley. For USD 21, we could enjoy whatever we liked: Livarot, Camembert… Or a rare “Fourme d’Ambert Espuma”, alternating just for the pleasure one glass of balanced, with elegant tones “Bordeaux Sauvignon, Jean Guillot, 2013” (only on wine pairing menu) and fragrant “Sauterne, Mouton Cadet, 2011” (USD 18 / glass).
We ended sweetly this … let’s call it a banquet, with a yummy “Fruit Gratin” (USD 11) (it takes 15 minutes to prepare it), and a glass of “Porto Ramos Pinto” (USD 18 / glass).
Saigon has more than 2500 restaurants. We would surely like to come back to ten of them: La Villa is on the top. It has its regular patrons, and surprisingly lots of them are locals. We have also seen a couple of tables occupied by honeymooners. Tina takes great care of them all year long, and Valentine Day is always celebrated lovingly in this embassy of the French good taste.
Open Monday – Saturday 11:45 to 16:00; dinner 18:30 to late (last order is 21:30)
LA VILLA: 14 Ngo Quang Huy, Thao Dien Ward, (Opposite to An Phu Supermarket), District 2, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam
PHONE: +84 8 3898 2082, +84 9 0771 9879
SQUARE ONE (*****): A Top 20 Best Hotel Restaurants Around the World by Daily Meal, and One of 82 Hot Tables by Condé Nast Traveler, the atmospheric Square One restaurant at Park Hyatt Saigon also has an attractive Business Lunch Set Menu (about USD 18), served in five different dining areas displaying integrated open-kitchens. The cuisine is described as "international": as we usually don’t like this definition, we would rather describe it as distinguishingly and distinctly specializing in three kinds of cuisines.
Square One is, first of all, a steak house. It competes with well-established restaurants like El Gaucho, located next door, on serving the best imported meat in Vietnam. The most popular cuts of richly marbled and tender Australian Wagyu, delightfully flavored bites of US Grain Fed Angus, and all-natural grass fed Australian beef with a natural taste and texture are available from the charcoal grill.
A seafood restaurant, it proposes Alaskan Black Cod, King Fish, Norwegian Salomon Steaks and superlative Live Lobsters.
is, last but not least, a reputed and authentic Vietnamese
restaurant. With an abundant and affordable Vietnamese Tasting Platter
two (featuring chef’s selection of the day, at USD 19), Green Papaya
And Beef Salad (USD 10), or vegetarian Assorted Spring Rolls (USD 8).
Some specialties from the Clay Pot are well worth the visit: like the
Saigon Style US Scallops, Bok Choy, Onion, Tamarind Sauce, Coriander,
and Sticky Rice (USD 27). Average bill for dinner is about USD 60,
NAMO TUSCAN GRILL (****L): Italy is so close to Saigon now. A few meter from the City Hall and the statue of “Uncle Ho”, just behind the Rex Hotel, this contemporary yet authentic trattoria brings the savors of Tuscany in the heart of District 1. Chef Ivan Barone invited us to “A Journey Through Tuscany”: name of the classic and classy tasting menu (USD 50 per person, served to a minimum of 2), featuring a mouth-watering introduction to some of the best specialties from the leading gastronomic destination in Italy.
The restaurant is definitely on the high-end side. If Western foodies will notice and appreciate the cool display of the room, the refined decoration (we dreamed we could drive away riding the vintage Vespa exhibited next to the entrance) making it “Italiano, ma non troppo”, and the open kitchen, our local companion was rather impressed by the exclusive aspect of what remains for Vietnamese an exclusive venue. Quite comparable to the contemporary restaurants in Milan or Rome, which sacrificed the vaulted walls and stained glasses of the old-style trattorias to modern trend with space and light. A restaurant where you can see the marvels that Chef Ivan lovingly cooks for a savant mixture of Vietnamese and Western patrons.
The appetizer couldn't be more traditional: the “Tuscan Tasting Board” is a great mise-en-bouche featuring Chicken Liver Paté, Cod Fish Croquette, Beans, and Meatballs. Only Soppressata was missing to make it 100% “a la Mamma”. Served with an appealing selection of freshly baked bread. That pleasant first step in Italy has been nicely paired with one of Robert Parker's favorite (89 points!) Tuscan wines, originated from one of the peninsula most prestigious vineyard areas: “Digia Bolgheri D.O.C. 2014, Batzella”. An alchemist mixture of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Cabernet Franc, this well textured, pleasantly refreshing nectar is available by the glass at USD 14. A good surprise for a great pairing.
A hard decision had to be taken with the first course. “Tuscan Ragout Pici”, one of our favorite dishes, or aromatic “Truffle Tagliatelle”? We ordered both and shared two different concepts of the “pasta”: popular vs aristocratic. The ragout might provide more satisfaction to foodies non-initiated yet to the peninsular cuisine...but the tagliatelle can't be missed: with sautéed forest mushroom, and aromatic black truffle, whose natural fragrance has undoubtedly be emphasized by the addition of a subtle note of truffle oil or essence, this dish is as simple as unforgettable. We had it nicely paired with a classic: “Banfi Cum Laude 2012, Castello Banfi”. A “Super Tuscan” cuvée from the golden terroir of the Montalcino Hills, awarded 92points from James Suckling. Boosting aromas of black fruits and gingerbread, with powerful tannins, this is an ad hoc wine with truffles (also fantastic with meat and some cheese). Price by the glass was USD 17. By the bottle, we recommend “Pinot Grigio Friuli IGT 2015, Bandut Colutta” (USD 38). Totalizing 88 points from Wine & Spirit, this is a good choice which could eventually pair the rest of the dinner.
A Tuscan oasis, Namo is also reputed for serving the best steaks in Saigon. This is one of the reasons why we wished to experience that double concept Italian plus steakhouse, and compare it with elder brothers like El Gaucho, which we liked a lot, and where booking a table last minute sounds quite challenging. For a supplement of approximately USD 30 for 2 persons, we got the best T-bone ever! The “Bistecca Fiorentina” weights a minimum of 800 kilograms. Marinated during a minimum of two weeks in Whisky, cooked medium rare, it came pink, juicy, but not bloody, thanks to the marination preserving all the vitamins. Melting in the mouth, procuring orgasm to the red meat lover, this signature dish is such a best seller that Namo holds a “Bistecca Fiorentina Night” every Wednesday, priced at approximately USD 100 for two, including a free flow of Banfi red wines and Sapporo beer. We shall try on our next visit the “Rib Eye Tagliata”, which was another choice on the Tasting Menu. The side dish is important with steak: a Tuscan Mamma couldn't roast the potatoes better that “il maestro” Ivan. We recommend “Farnito 2011, Carpineto” for a fair pairing. With 91 points from Wine & Spirit, this savant “Baby Super Tuscan” wine, made entirely with Cabernet Sauvignon, opens with aromas of toasted oak, scorched earth, underbrush and a balsamic whiff of eucalyptus. This was our preferred wine, at USD 14. Compared with international hotels and restaurants of its category, Namo serves really attractive wine at an honest price.
At that stage, we had already full stomach, and the refreshing homemade Limoncello was the final, light note to our definitely successful -and affordable- journey to Tuscany.
Dress code smart casual. Open daily, 11am - 10:30pm (11:00pm week end and public holidays).
NAMO TUSCAN GRILL: 146-148 Pasteur, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam
PHONE: +84 8 3822 1431
BISTRO SÔNG VIE (****L): Our summer 2016
experience at Villa
Song restaurant along the River Saigon was to die for. From the
extravagant à la
carte breakfast, till the candlelit dinner, we have experienced technical perfection by Chef Kevin Marchetti, and much
kindness from the
enthusiastic waiters. Yet a young chef, Kevin knows all the tricks from
the elder Michelin-star mentors he has been meeting since he was a
teenager. We had our lunch in a totally full restaurant. Patrons are
quite young, yuppie style, with a lot of smart ladies in their
victorious 30s. Gastronomic is much patronized by women in Saigon: they
particularly enjoy French and Italian cuisines, and know wine better
than anybody. We met the same category of gourmets like at Le Corto, a
new and select French fine dining table, where we had our dinner the
next day. Quality food for quality people!
Vietnamese gourmets won’t miss goose or duck liver.
Tailored made for them, Kevin’s “Trio of Foie Gras” is a best seller
(at USD 35), with Liver Seared on Roasted Mango Pillow, Ballotine
with Black Sesame and Passion Fruit Gelée, and Parfait on Ginger Bread
and Lavender-Pepper Tuile. This is called a real treat. Like the royal
“Pillow of French Pigeon Breast” (USD 59), richly stuffed with Foie
Gras and Spinach on Zucchini-Carrot Mat, Sautéed Baby Potatoes and
Seasonal Veggies, Cacao Sauce. Escoffier is not far…
LE CORTO (****L): Saigon is not a city for established restaurants. Open a new one, if you are a good chef with a note of originality, and if the location close to the premium hotels is strategic, then it just can be a success story from the very beginning. It took the young and ambitious Sakal Phoeung less than one year to develop one of the premium five-star French restaurants in the competitive District 1. His partners designed one of the most elegant, lounge style dining-rooms, while he invested in hiring the best staff to provide a top class service to the new generation of local gourmets: young, rich, open minded and focusing on the best products from the best origins, often more expert in wine than most of the European, Saigon has got a hard to please elite of foodies. They all come to Le Corto.
French with Cambodian origins, living in South East Asia since 2000, Chef Sakal is as atypical as his cuisine. He learned from Michelin star chefs at “Le Bateau Ivre”, “Château de Candie”, joined the difficult and very academic luxury hotel industry at “Sofitel Phokeetra Phnom Penh” and “Sofitel Plaza Saigon”. From his mentors, he inherited skill and tradition (he is the President of Escoffier Vietnam and a member of L’Académie Culinaire de France), and let his imagination do the rest. And the rest is just splendid!
Chef Sakal is always ready to talk to his guests, and spend some time with them chatting at the bar before diner. We have seen Daniel Boulud in New York or Paul Bocuse in Collonges-au-Mont-d’Or doing the same. His staff has been well trained, and can do the job until he goes back to the kitchen. He knows that Veronika, the divine and experienced Russian “maîtresse de maison” (this is how we call a luxury restaurant manager in France, when she is a lady), will take great care of the VIP guests (which means 100% of the patrons) assisted by a remarkable staff (mostly feminine, like in many restaurants in Vietnam).
Our dinner started in style with “Caviar Le Duc over Minced Crab”: a fishy and richly iodized amuse-bouche. We love caviar, and are lucky enough to experience the best brands from the best origins. Sounding like French, Le Duc actually doesn’t refer to caviar from Gironde or Sologne, but to a new local production by Le Anh Duc’s sturgeon farm, at the Da Mi hydroelectric reservoir lake, in Tanh Linh District, Vietnam's central southern province of Binh Thuan. This was exciting to experience one of the first 100% Vietnamese harvests, indeed. The savor is rich, not too salted. Better that Russian caviar, though a little bit less textured, it is far superior to the Chinese production which we experienced in some Michelin star restaurants. At about $5,000 a kilo for Beluga, Le Duc also produces super rare Albino caviar which can sell for up to $100,000 per kilogram!
Keeping with fish and refinement, we ordered a so fresh “Raw Scallops, Marinated Salmon Steak, Avocado Purée Trio, Wasabi sauce”. This is a season dish, a la carte in June / July, with a strong Japanese influence. It was ideally paired by Veronika, an expert in wine, with “De Bortoli, Riverina” (USD 7 / glass), a young generic Chardonnay from a small vineyard establish in the 1920s in Bilbul, North-South Wales, Australia. Signature fish dishes feature “Grilled Squid and Prawns with Herbs and Salsa”, or “Oven Seared Catch of the Day, Sautéed Vegetables”. Most of those seafood dishes are fairly priced, at around USD 10 till 15.
Goose / Duck liver is a must in a gourmet restaurant in Saigon. Sakal is reaching perfection with one of his best specialties: “Pan Fried Foie Gras Lasagna, Wild Mushrooms, Black Truffles Foam” (USD 18). Playing with aromas and textures, he achieved an Oscar worthy recipe inspired by Escoffier. The wine, inspired by Veronika, was a “Côtes-du-Rhône, Oraison” (USD 38 / bottle). Soft, balanced, with a pleasant finish, served directly from the cellar at 12°, this is an ideal pairing with the truffle strong essence. Moreover, it brings a light, refreshing note, always welcome under a tropical climate. Another inspiring signature main dish, which we shall straightly order next time: the so-French “Veal Sweetbreads with Mushrooms and Crushed Potatoes”. At only USD 22, we are in the standard price in a small bistro in Paris. Another fairly priced bistro fare: we would warmly recommend Sakal’s tender and juicy “Black Angus Beef Fillet with Black Pepper” (USD 22). We cleaned our plate with one piece of the delicious freshly baked bread presented by the waitress with each dish. We finished our glass of Côte-du-Rhone with our grilled beef; alternatively if could be nicely paired with “Banfi Col Di Sasso”, from Tuscany, Italy (USD 23 / glass).
Our dessert was “Iced Nougat, Red Fruits Sauce”, perfectly aromatic and actually yummy. You can also taste the surprising “Liquorice Crème Brûlée, with Coffee Ice Cream”. Most sweets cost USD 9.
This promising gastronomic restaurant proposes a money saving set lunch at USD 8 (2 courses) and USD 11 (3 courses), including tea or coffee.
Open for lunch 11am - 2:30pm. Dinner 5pm - 11pm.
LE CORTO: 5D Nguyen Sieu, Ben Nghe ward, District 1,
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam
PHONE: +84 8 38220671
EL GAUCHO (****L): This is always surprising to see how Asian people are fond of steakhouses. If for French or American enjoying a good sirloin or rib eye steak in a bistro sounds like a pleasant middle-class routine, it comes in Asia with such a chic image. Imported meat is expensive, and enjoying it remains a real privilege. El Gaucho is new, but already one of the leading restaurants in Saigon. Things go fast in this developing, refined city: you win (or you lose) fast, depending on the mouth to ear and reviews in the magazines. Once at our hotel, Park Hyatt, opposite the restaurant, we inquired to the concierge, management, and even F&B, asking which was the best steakhouse in District 1. The response was always the same: “-You should try El Gaucho!”.
Don’t dine alone in a steakhouse of that class. Bring a Saigonese friend. There are many chances that he/she already heard of this place, which he/she maybe cannot afford; treating an educated person in such a reputed restaurant shall bring you some bonuses, either in term of business or love… We have seen how Vietnamese can be excessively gourmet. Sometimes more than French or Italian. The reaction of our partner at El Gaucho was like orgasmic.
First of all, the restaurant is trendy. Modern, elegant, comfortable, with great local and international staff. Waiters are amongst the most enthusiastic which we have seen during our long gastronomic tour of Southeast Asia. The concept “El Gaucho” started so successfully in Thailand (Bangkok), that the Saigon franchise has developed a four levels concept to host more patrons with more comfort. We were quite attracted by the large, little more formal dining room opening to a smoking terrace with a view on the animated Hai Ba Trung street. But David, the young and active owner, suggested that the ground-floor bar would be more animated on a weekday. We sat at the bar, and enjoyed one of the most friendly and remarkable meat dinners in our gourmet life.
What is important to us, and this is what motivated us to experience El Gaucho: the chef only uses beef from cattle that are handled, fed and treated according to the strict animal welfare guidelines, raised in non-stress environments and at no point exposed to antibiotics or hormones. This is guaranteed and written black on white on the menu. Few steakhouses are providing to their guests such healthy, prime quality beef from the best Australian and American farms. Reaching the highest marble scores and grading, the hand-cut and hand trimmed meat is carefully aged in a cold storage to fully develop the flavor and tenderness for a fantastic melt in our mouth. Note that it is 100% Halal certified.
We ordered our beef by the weight. It goes up to 1000 grams by the portion! Unless you are an ogre, keep with the smallest, 250 grams steaks, and don’t miss the extraordinary side dishes, from the classic French Fries till the gourmand Macaroni and Cheese, Sautéed Onions or wonderful Corn on Cob, nor the to-die-for sauces (we recommend the spicy BBA Sauce and the Wild Mushroom Sauce ). We had a thick, medium rare Black Angus Filet Steak, juicy, tender, with such a rich taste. Our partner was like magnetized by her USDA Prima Rib Eye Steak, melting almost like butter. At approximately USD 40 (plus 10% VAT), that was not cheap on the local standard but great value for money, indeed. The side dishes came in a generous portion at USD 4 till 7 only! The sauces didn’t cost more than USD 4. We were suggested to try just a bit of the homemade Salchicha (a good starter at an affordable USD 8). This spicy sausage, tasting like North African “merguez”, is permanently on sale at El Gaucho butcher’s shop, located opposite to the bar. The price of the all cleaned and trimmed beef, lamb and pork is attractive (the Salchicha costs USD 22 / Kg; USDA Prime Beef goes for USD 77 / Kg, plus 10% VAT). El Gaucho is also reputed for its pastas (try the Spaghetti with Chorizo Bolognese, at USD 15), fish (Grilled Tasmanian Salmon is a signature, at USD 24). We enjoyed the creamy “Provoleta”: grilled Provolone cheese, tomato, with a hint of oregano and olive oil (USD 10). The Caesar Salad, rich on Parmesan, is considered one of the best in Saigon (USD 10).
We have been quite impressed by the wine list. Updated with the best brands from Argentina, Chile, Spain, Australia and the USA, it features a more than decent Argentinean Malbec at USD 8 by the glass, nicely pairing our meat.
Impossible to leave El Gaucho without tasting the Hot Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream, or the so divine Argentinean Dulce De Leche in Crepe with Vanilla Ice Cream. Most of the desserts cost less than 9 USD. If you are smiling and friendly, the staff might offer you a glass of signature iced Vodka Caramel, pairing so well the Dulce de Leche.
The best compliment about El Gaucho was pronounced by our partner: “-We shall come back?”. For sure: should it be in Saigon, Hanoi, and Bangkok, impossible to visit only once such a successful, warmly recommended restaurant.
Opening hours: Daily from 11 am until late.
EL GAUCHO: 74/1 Hai Ba Trung, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1,
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam
PHONE: +84 8 38 272 090
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