Four P's in Pizza
Rarely has a new restaurant opened to such overwhelming and unanimous fanfare quite like Pizza 4P’s. Serving up over a dozen classic, contemporary and downright bizarre pizzas, this non-smoking Japanese-Italian fusion joint, which launched last February, has gotten tongues wagging all over Saigon despite its obscure location and lack of advertising and marketing.
“The most adventurous gourmet pizzas I’ve tried anywhere in the world,” one British-Vietnamese businessman was overheard enthusing, while hundreds of people, from local chefs and fellow restaurateurs to common pie lovers from Vietnam and abroad, have taken to TripAdviser and Pizza 4P’s Facebook page to post a torrent of superlative comments.
Inspired by traditional Naples-style pizza pies, the Japanese owner spent three months experimenting with a multitude of topping combinations before finalising the menu. The result, a mixture of idiosyncratic creations that includes the tuna curry pizza, calamari seaweed pizza and teriyaki chicken pizza, and more rustic types such as the quattro formaggi, prusshuo (parma ham) and marinara.
Also helping Pizza 4P’s to stand out from the crowd are the less obvious touches. The restaurant imports its tomatoes directly from Italy and makes it’s own mozzarella cheese from local buffalo and cow’s milk. The contemporary and minimalist Japanese dining areas have been left unspoiled by the building’s old and unsightly air-conditioning units, which have been innovatively concealed behind hand-made wooden shutter boxes that match the colour of the walls.
Pizza 4P’s, which stands for Platform of Personal Pizza for Peace, is also taking customer interaction up a notch. Diners are encouraged to sit around the wood fired oven where they can watch a pair of chefs cook their pizzas from start to finish, while the restaurant also invites people to take part in their monthly ‘selection parties’. Held on their Facebook page, budding pizza chefs get the chance to create their own pizzas, from the ingredients used and the cooking procedure to the name of the dish. Voted by the public, the winning pizza is placed on the menu with the creator receiving a four percent share of their item’s monthly sales. The first, the salted mackerel margherita pizza, is already available.
This restaurant’s unique slant on Italy’s archetypal dish appears to be paying dividends. Fully booked most nights of the week, advanced reservations are already essential.
Pizza 4P’s is located at 8/15 Le Thanh Ton, Q1. Tel: 3822 9838. Open Tuesday to Sunday from 11.30am to 11pm.
Don’t Cry For me Argentina
When it comes to international cuisine, Saigon has always struggled with the concept of simple food done well. There are numerous instances of restaurateurs and chefs trying to overcomplicate what should be easy cuisine, while others have done standard food badly — mid-range casual European and American fare is typically an uncomplicated affair. And then of course is the problem of consistency. How many times has everyone eaten out here to have one good meal followed by a bad one at the same restaurant?
When El Gaucho opened in March it achieved the unachievable — it hit the ground running. Not only was the service already more than passable, but the grill menu and quality of cuisine ticked all the right boxes. Cooking a good, barbecued steak, hamburger, skewer, potato gratin side, mixed salad or lamb chop doesn’t require the presence of a Michelin-star chef — indeed, you only need to watch the chefs on the grill here to see how simple it all is. The key is the quality of the ingredients — good beef as they say begets a good steak.
Of course, it’s not just the quality of the steak and the other cuisine that fills up this downtown restaurant almost every night (try the 250g ribeye for VND590,000 — it’s to die for). The contemporary but relaxed décor helps, too — bare red-brick walls with large framed black and white Argentinean-influenced photos. Then there’s the low lighting and typically Latino music. And the service — aided by a number of European and Filipino waiting and bar staff — is detailed, friendly and efficient.
To quote an overused cliché. It’s not rocket science. But it does require hard work.
El Gaucho, 5D Nguyen Sieu, Q1. Tel: 3825 1879. Open 4pm to late.
If ever there is a restaurant that has made mistakes, it is Lisboa Café. And yet for all its errors — its location on Cong Quynh at the end of Bui Vien rather than on Bui Vien itself and the lack of air-con — the cuisine makes this nondescript venue excel. This writer has eaten in this simply designed eatery twice, both on the airy top-floor terrace and downstairs street-side, noise and all. And both times the dishes have brought back memories of trips to Portugal.
If you know Portugal then you’ll understand the similarities of its cuisine to its larger neighbour, Spain — tapas and simply constructed dishes with lots of meat and vegetables, all full of flavour and character. The great contrast is the focus on seafood. Straddling the Atlantic Ocean in the west and the mouth of the Mediterranean in the south, products from the sea run through the whole cuisine. If you’ve ever savoured barbecued fish on a Portuguese beach, you’ll both know and remember the experience.
Concrete metropolis Saigon is hardly going to fulfill the same sensual pleasures, but Lisboa Café has got its cuisine right. The cod fishcakes, served with a simple salad doused in balsamic vinegar, are crispy on the outside yet soft inside, and ooze taste. The octopus salad is piquant yet light on the palate. And the simple but tasty rojoes — a claypot dish of fried pork kebabs and diced sautéed potatoes — is nicely spiced and wholesome.
We need restaurants like Lisboa Café in Saigon — it adds to the spice. And the prices here are reasonable, too. So, please try and support it. If you don’t mind the location and the lack of air-con, you’ll be happy that you did.
Lisboa Café, 119 Cong Quynh, Q1. Tel: 3920 9182 / 01664 055675. Open 9am to 10pm