R.E.D with its red-lit sign adds some life to this relatively uneventful street, noise comfortably falling out of its doors as well as the odd customer after one too many. Recently changing its name from Red Drum (Trong Do), the popular downtown watering hole has renovated its upstairs area to a more diner friendly space. Modern in design without being too sterile, the area upstairs manages to live up to the bar’s name-cum-acronym — relax, eat and drink.
Plush and indulgent, Xu’s main currency is escapism. A long bar manned with more than capable mixologists downstairs is an instant draw. But we were here for the food, so we headed upstairs into the soft lighting and intimacy of the dining area. Boasting a well-conceived collaboration between Vietnamese cuisine and overseas cooking styles, and with the likes of Square One and Blanchy’s Tash just a stone’s throw away, our expectations were high.
Fans of broccoli, cauliflower and mixed greens living in Vietnam have a couple of hectares of Dalat farmland and a conscientious American to thank. Douglas Pyper talks to Bob Allen to understand how his family operation in the mountains of Central Vietnam affected the whole country’s eating habits.Photo by Quinn Ryan Mattingly
Located just beneath Au Lac Saigon Hotel, Bahdja is Saigon’s first ever Algerian restaurant, serving authentic, multi-ethnic Berber North African and Mediterranean cuisine cooked and served in a traditional Algerian style. Best experienced in a group, this small but pleasant restaurant’s soothing ambience is matched by the owners’ genuine hospitality and complimented by an array of tasty tajines and couscous-based dishes. Make sure to try the excellent Moroccan wine, too.
It’s a bit late for the pan-Asia roti bun fad now, but it’s surprising just how many foreigners in town have never tried what is possibly the most delicious bread roll that exists. A counter-intuitive clash of supposedly incompatible flavours (coffee and cheese, of all things) the resulting crispy brioche was moving 20,000 units per bakery at the height of its popularity, and still has the power to tempt casual passers-by based on smell alone — the aroma tempting enough to spur impulse buying even by people who are not in the least bit hungry.
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.
It’s often remarked that being multi-talented or multi-functional is never anywhere near as good as being exceptional at just one thing. This is probably why Com Tam Nguyen Van Cu (167 Nguyen Van Cu, Q5) has managed to uphold such a fine reputation amongst foreign diners despite having one of the least extensive menus of any other popular restaurant in the city. Truth be known, there’s no physical menu at all quite yet, despite the restaurant having been in business for 20 years now — what you see on the counter is what you get.
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.