No stranger to being knee deep in shrimp shells on any given day, I was rather excited to be reviewing upscale seafood restaurant Song Ngu. In this town there are two ways to enjoy coastal cuisine — either in front of a cheap stainless steel table on the street or in high-end restaurants with expensive tableware. Song Ngu belongs to the latter. While a majority of my experience lies firmly in the former, the extensive menu presented to our party as we sat was a nice departure from the finger pointing ordering I’m used to.

 

Upon discovering I’d be reviewing a New York-style Italian restaurant, images of the rambunctious dining scenes from Martin Scorsese’s iconic 1990 mafia flick Goodfellas instantly came to mind.

 

Aesthetically, Zest is unlike any restaurant I’ve encountered in Saigon; a cross between a North American industrial warehouse (whitewashed breezeblocks, metal support beams and pillars, high ceilings) and a Scandinavian villa (wooden slats), making for an extremely open, cool and airy atmosphere. The wry foodie twist applied to the propaganda-style poster artwork painted onto the walls is equally unique, adding a slight kitschy feel to the surrounds.

Peeping out from below Au Lac Saigon Hotel is Bahdja, Saigon’s first Algerian restaurant. Taken from the Arabic noun for ‘happiness’, Bahdja not only attempts to produce authentic, multi-ethnic Berber North African and Mediterranean cuisine cooked and served in a traditional Algerian style, but also a genuinely pleasant Arabic-influenced dining experience.

Seafood restaurants are a dime a dozen in Vietnam, enjoyed daily from north to south. Yet, on a cool Monday evening in deepest, darkest District 7, idle staff at Nha Hang Ca Bien Saigon Moi out-number customers two-to-one. No one’s here, reducing the atmosphere to a damp squib.

Though looks aren’t everything, it’s hard not to be dazzled by Ly Club’s plush aesthetic beauty — itself a homage to the creative prowess of the Ly Dynasty. Elegant yet casual, we sit in a softly lit and greenly shrouded front garden, surrounded by comfy French-style garden furniture atop a raised wooden deck area. A stunning infinity fountain, a vast French colonial villa and a sleek outdoor bar make for captivating eye candy. The cacophonous rush hour traffic is replaced by the swirl of Eurasian lounge music.

With the increasing cosmopolitan nature of this city and diners’ willingness to dabble in the exotic, the addition of Chile House, the first Chilean restaurant in Saigon, should be regarded less as a surprise and more an inevitability.

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