I almost walk past the street-level entrance to Rom BBQ, a Vietnamese rooftop cook-it-yourself joint close to Ben Thanh Market, perched on what could be one of District 1’s prime urban mountaintops. At seven floors up it’s more of a hillock, but bear with me.


With only a modest menu displayed at the doorway to a dim, mostly shuttered shopping arcade, we are grateful for the uniformed employee dispatched to round up the crane-necked folks like us shuffling around the pavement.

 

After a quick ascent, the smell of smoking coals and grilled meat hits us as soon as the elevator doors open. With barbecues come memories. For me, it’s summer holidays as a child, my dad standing with blackened fingers, a French beer in one hand and tongs in the other, the meat from the post-beach trip to le supermarché sizzling away. Whatever it conjures for you, there’s something uniquely comforting about caveman cooking. Like sitting around a campfire or sharing a fondue, it’s not just about food, it’s an event.

 

 

Upon entering Rom’s partially covered rooftop terrace, the carefully considered design is immediately apparent. Modern, polished concrete surfaces, contemporary lighting and exposed ducting sit nicely alongside the colonial era tiling and industrial French café chairs. Around the buzzing space, soft plumes of smoke rise from the mini barbecues set into the tables, each one surrounded by large families or groups of friends nattering away as they tend to the bubbling hot-pots or crackling meats before them.

 

A young couple sat on the periphery gaze out at the moon and the city over a bottle of wine. Taking in the best that downtown Saigon has to offer, the sweeping views are grand — although already tinged with nostalgia, as one imagines the outline of another skyscraper standing in the currently vacant plot across the road.

 

But now we must eat.

 

Where It’s At

 

Although hotpots are available, the clue is in the name. The barbecue section of the menu is where the fun is really at, occupying several pages with a wide variety of meat and seafood options. Along with a side of zingy lemongrass rice and assorted barbecue friendly vegetables such as okra and sweet potato, we commence proceedings with a combo platter. The white hot grill is quickly loaded with slithers of duck, goat, chicken and pork, each marinated in a range of homemade sauces — the coconut milk and sesame chicken in particular attracting multiple nods of approval from the table. Tender and flavoursome, the superb quality of the meat is obvious.

 

 

After a refreshing round of top-notch salmon wrapped in perilla leaves, we move onto the beef. Skipping over imported US steaks, ribs, kebabs and tempting cheese/beef parcels, our fingers land on the Kobe beef.

 

Opting for the friendly waitress’s recommendation of a five-spice seasoning, the thin slices of perfectly marbled meat arrive looking good enough to eat sashimi-style before they’ve even touched the grill. But touch the grill they do. Cooking in mere seconds and taken with a scoop of lemony rice, the combination puts me in meaty heaven.

 

At VND122,000 a portion, it’s a steal. Add a VND40,000 glass of draft Sapporo and repeat as necessary. — Simon Stanley

 

Rom BBQ is at Thanh The Plaza rooftop, 2-4-6 Luu Van Lang, Q1, Ho Chi Minh City. For more info, go to rombbq.com.vn

Simon Stanley

Born in the middle of nowhere in the middle of England, Simon spent the first decade of adulthood living in a neon-lit London office before hauling on a rucksack and travelling around the world with his partner. After a year on the road, and another grey British winter on the cards, he returned to Vietnam to swap suits and ties for pho and flip-flops. Simon is now a freelance writer based in Ho Chi Minh City.

 

Website: www.simonstanley.blogspot.com

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