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Sunday Lunch at The Deck – Review by Ho Chi Minx

Sunday Lunch at The Deck – Review by Ho Chi Minx

For me, The Deck is a soothing tonic to Saigon’s hot and hectic madness. Nestled on the banks of the Mekong in Thao Dien (District 2), the restaurant and bar serves up a large dose of escapism alongside beautifully presented plates of Asian and Western food on a serene wooden deck jutting out over the river. Sunday lunch in this tranquil spot is fast becoming a crucial part of my Saigon weekend. Saturday evening, on the other hand, is a little more vibey in terms of the music and crowd.

Coming into Thao Dien, the the roar and chaos of downtown Saigon vanishes into the background as you weave through a village of international schools, big (and sometimes brash) mansions and gourmet shops.

deck3
The Deck, Saigon

The restaurant is elegant, spacious and very nicely decked out. The people are beautiful, the wine is cold and the koi carp lead happy lives, but thankfully The Deck pulls off this vibe without much pretentiousness.

A good wine list is available as well as plenty of cocktails (with a decent sunset happy hour offer) – we opted of a couple of bottles of Mussel Bay Sauvignon Blanc, perfect for sipping on a hot day as the river glides by. The ‘pan-Asian’ weekend menu offers a lot of fish and seafood, with some western favourites (burgers, steaks, risotto) and some all day breakfast options. My recommendation would be to stick mostly to the Asian dishes and sharing style.

Sunset at The Deck
Sunset at The Deck

For our group of five, we booked a table right next to the water and selected a wide range of smaller sharing plates – the restaurant will adapt quantities of their dishes to suit the size of your group. The prawn rolls were delicious dim sum-style steamed parcels filled with juicy prawns and a light soy dipping sauce. We also tried the pork belly dumplings which came pan fried with a moist, meaty filling, accompanied by a ginger soy dipping sauce. Both of these dishes were wonderful – light, delicate and packed with flavour.

We also had the Phu Quoc squid, which comes lightly battered in a bucket with a perfect sweet chilli sauce on the side. Glorious. The duck pancakes are predictably excellent, served on a platter with plum sauce, cucumber, spring onion, red onion and chilli. The seafood dumplings look beautiful and are tasty as long as you like fishy flavours. The scallops (we only got three of these sadly) were perfectly cooked and served each on a piece of succulent aubergine.

Duck Pancakes, Phu Quoc Squid and Seafood Dumplings at The Deck
Duck Pancakes, Phu Quoc Squid and Seafood Dumplings at The Deck

We had the marinated chicken skewers, which is positioned on the menu as a main dish for one person, but also works for sharing. Two large skewers of succulent chicken with chunks of leek are served in a lightly curried sauce with skinny french fries, which provided a little extra sustenance to the meal. The only slightly disappointing dish was the fish cakes which our group agreed were a little bland and unexciting, but far from offensive.

The tomato burrata salad was creamy and refreshing, served with avocado which isn’t mentioned on the menu but is always a welcome addition for me. The crab avocado is also a heavenly dish; a light terrine of crab meat and chunks of avocado, topped with half cherry tomatoes and slices of egg – ideal for sharing.

If you are inclined towards dessert, the cinnamon doughnuts are delicious small sweet doughy balls with a variety of dipping sauces. The chocolate bomb is more difficult to share but most definitely a winner – as verified by the most serious chocoholic I know.

Chocolate Bomb at The Deck
Chocolate Bomb at The Deck

The Deck is definitely up-market and on the pricey side, as far as Saigon dining goes, but the ambiance is a welcome departure from the hustle of the city, and the prices are worth it for the quality of food and experience. Expect to pay around 1 million VND (40 USD) per person, and naturally much more if you get stuck into the drinks for an afternoon session of Mekong barge-watching.

For Saigon expats, it’s the perfect weekend lunch spot to take visitors. For tourists, the 15 minute taxi journey from District 1 could transform your perception the city and provide the perfect remedy for foot-sore sightseers. It is utterly worth the trip because there simply isn’t another restaurant like it in Saigon.

The Deck

38 Nguyen U Di St., Thao Dien,
District 2, Ho Chi Minh City

Tel: +84 (0) 8 3744 6632

www.thedecksaigon.com

 

 

24 Hours in Ho Chi Minh

24 Hours in Ho Chi Minh

Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon as the locals still call it, is a rising Asian star sprawling across the Mekong delta. The mammoth river meanders past both glitzy new skyscrapers and clusters of low thatched huts, marking this diverse city’s intoxicating mix of old and new worlds. Motorbikes and scooters swarm through the streets of Saigon carrying families of five, portable street kitchens and even wide-screen TVs.

The French influence lingers in the tree-lined boulevards and colonial buildings of District 1, as well as the abundance of baguettes which are sold and scoffed on every street corner. Saigon hasn’t historically ranked up there with the big boys of Asia – Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai – but it has so much going for it; vibrant, foodie, fast, ambitious, and incredibly good value.

24 hours is not long to take in all that Saigon has to offer, so these are my recommendations on getting the most out of your visit.

Pho for breakfast

pho

Vietnam’s beloved national dish is best sampled at breakfast time (as the locals do), once you get over any preconceptions about eating savoury noodle soup first thing in the morning. Delicious bowls of the fragrant broth are served from hole-in-the-wall style cafes on every street corner – usually the more basic the cafe, the better the pho. You can order ‘pho tai’ (rare beef) if you only have one chance to try it, but there is a choice of different toppings if that doesn’t whet your appetite. True to most Vietnamese food, pho  comes with a small garden on the side for you to customise your bowl. At a local style cafe, if you pay more than 40,000 VND (2 USD) then you are paying too much. The best way to find somewhere for pho is simply to walk a few blocks, wherever you are in the city, and take a seat…likely on a plastic stool, but it will be worth it.

The War Remnants Museum

Saigon’s war museum tops most lists of things to do in the city, and is a must-see even for museum-averse travellers. Chronicling the ‘American War’, as the Vietnamese understandably refer to it, the museum is a harrowing overview of the atrocities of Vietnam’s recent history. Inside the museum, stories are told mostly through an extensive collection of horrifying photographs, but there are also preserved prison cells and some deeply disturbing torture paraphernalia on display, as well as original tanks, weapons, Chinook helicopters and aircraft outside the museum. The museum has admittedly been accused of portraying a rather one-sided picture of the war, but its likely you will have already seen some arguably biased American films about the Vietnam war before your visit, so I recommend just taking it all in and with a pinch of salt.

Lunch on the Mekong river

the-deck

After the war museum, take some light relief by grabbing lunch on the Mekong river. A 15 minute taxi from the centre of District 1 will take you to the tranquility of The Deck in Thao Dien. If so inclined, ask your hotel to call the restaurant and organise for their boat to collect you from District 1. This way to can also squeeze in a Mekong boat trip, and arrive at the restaurant in style; disembarking your boat on a jetty at the front of the restaurant – not for those who prefer to remain inconspicuous. If you choose to take a taxi, driving through Thao Dien you will find an unashamedly expat enclave, with trendy bars, gourmet super markets and some ridiculously large villas to ogle at. True to its name, at The Deck you can escape the heat and hustle of Saigon with some upmarket lunching on a beautiful wooden deck overlooking the river. The Deck’s menu is skewed towards fish and seafood, but there are plenty of options to suit all tastes. Try the duck pancakes, the pork belly dumplings and the Phu Quoc prawn rolls. The restaurant also has a wide selection of wine, including a very decent pale rose, if that’s your poison.

Colonial sights and roof bar hopping

Make your way back to District 1 to take a leisurely tour of the beautiful buildings, interspersed with stops at the most old-school of drinking holes. All of these spots are just a few minutes walk from each other so by foot is definitely the way to go. Start at the Notre Dame Cathedral, where you can also see the very grand old post office located in the same square. The interior of the post office is interesting, with its preserved colonial telephone booths and a looming painting of Ho Chi Minh overlooking the parcels and packaging counters.  From here, head towards the roof of the Rex Hotel for a drink. Everything about the Rex is very dated (including the elevators which look like the perfect spot for a 1970s James Bond villain to pounce), but the views down the central promenade make for good people-watching. Occasionally you can catch unassuming pedestrians getting soaked by the fountains which sporadically spurt water up from the pavement below. Once refreshed, head up to the City Hall and then round the corner to the old opera house, a beautiful building next to the Intercontinental Hotel, where Graham Greene wrote The Quiet American during the war. Finish at the Caravelle Hotel’s Saigon Saigon roof bar for a gin & tonic. This leafy bar is where the newspaper correspondents gathered during the war to exchange information, stories and of course to drink heavily.

Food and sights on a Vespa

vespa-tour

This may sound daunting but a vesper tour is undoubtedly the way to experience Saigon as it’s meant to be done. Jump on the back of a scooter to take in the sights and immerse yourself in the glorious chaos of the city’s streets. If you choose Vespa Adventures night-time foodie tour, an experienced driver will whizz your group around various eating and drinking locations to sample the some of the best Vietnamese food. This is a great way to try a number of renowned local dishes if you have limited time in the city. Make sure you are hungry – there is a lot to eat, even for the greediest of foodies. This tour isn’t cheap (around 90 USD) but if you take into account that you aren’t spending money on a restaurant dinner, and you’re getting a thrilling tour of the city by night, it’s worth the expense. People of all ages and sizes do different scooter tours so don’t be put off if you think you are too old or awkward to get on the back of a vespa. This unique tour will tick boxes for everyone – foodies, thrill-seekers and culture vultures.

After-hours

If you want to sample some of Saigon’s night life in one night only, then start by hitting Pham Ngu Lao street for some of the cheapest beers you can find these days. This area is buzzing with backpackers and hawkers. Its not for everyone but its an experience and at the very least a cheap drink. If you have the energy, head to Apocalypse Now, Saigon’s most famous night club, where travellers and locals come together to dance and drink. It reminds me a little of a cheesy club from university days, but if you choose to embrace the vibe then you can definitely have fun dancing the night away here.

24 hours should give you a good taste of what Saigon is about, but to really get under the city’s skin you need to experience the many layers and dimensions of this wonderfully challenging city. There are many things which don’t quite function properly in Saigon but, like an old drunken friend who often gets it wrong, you forgive these misdemeanors for its endless energy and charm.

 

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