Algerian eating is all about enjoying a feast of food among good friends.”
Reading that again, I could easily end the review right there. It’s as close to perfection as anything I’ll be able to write. The reason? It describes exactly what Badhja is; a feast of food and a fusion of flavours.
Having now eaten there twice, the first time completely by accident, I find that this restaurant has delivered on what its menu says both times. It’s a flavour promise well worth experiencing.
On being given this month’s assignment, I was initially unsure. “Badhja,” I think to myself, “haven’t I been here before?” Scratching my head, it isn’t until I sit down on the breezy upstairs courtyard, absorbing the ‘Mediterranean meets Ali Baba’ vibe, that I meet Anna, the owner (and epitome of what it means to be a host), and I realise where I am — Badhja’s new location. Continuing to sip the tea that I’m being served out of a silver pot fit for a small genie, the realisation is a happy one.
That’s because I know at that point that I’m in for a treat, and what follows is a play-by-play of good, sorry — great — food, good conversation and what I describe to my photographer Kyle as ‘passion on a plate’. Russian native Anna and her Algerian husband Ahmed leave no stone unturned in delivering a food experience you will remember, then want to have again. “90% of our customers are regulars,” she tells us, and I’m not surprised. Even the free trio of homemade dips and breads sets a high standard.
That is quickly followed by a deliciously crunchy-on-the-outside, fluffy-in-the-middle falafel (VND120,000) and sets us up for the mozzarella tower (VND150,000), a starter which hits an early high note in the concerto to come. Picture al dente eggplant and zucchini wrapped around a perfectly firm piece of mozzarella, complemented by roasted tomatoes and just enough spice to bind. I eat two before Anna can even ask, “How was it?”
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That’s followed up by couscous with lamb chops (VND350,000) and we’re moving into foodie heaven. The tenderness of the lamb, combined with the space given to the lightest and freshest of couscous, makes this a dish to savour. On top of that came a terrific seafood tajine (VND250,000) and I’m in danger of exceeding my word limit. You’re going to have to go there yourself. You won’t forget it. — Jon Aspin
Badhja is at 27 Le Quy Don, Q3, HCMC