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La Villa is the ultimate fine-dining treat in Saigon

La Villa is the ultimate fine-dining treat in Saigon

Situated in a beautiful white colonial villa in the leafy backstreets of Thao Dien, La Villa is quietly making waves among the fine-dining restaurants in Ho Chi Minh. The restaurant is known for its exquisite french food, produced by Chef Thierry, in the most special of settings – a welcome change from the shiny 5* hotels offering fine-dining experiences. La Villa manages not to be pretentious, yet is firmly traditional in terms of French food being done properly.

La Villa, Saigon
La Villa, Saigon

The villa has a lush garden with twinkling tables situated around a small pool, which is a very romantic setting for dinner. Our group of 5 were seated inside due to the rain, in a gorgeous large room with an old wooden spiral staircase, white columns, plush red drapes and oil paintings adorning the walls – it felt like stepping back in time.

La Villa, Saigon
La Villa, Saigon

We were greeted and looked after Tina, Chef Thierry’s wife, who was beyond charming. She thoughtfully talked us through the menu while we ordered up a couple of bottles of wine from the extensive wine list that the restaurant offers.  There are a few set menu options, so two of our group went for the Menu de La Villa, two opted for the Menu de La Villa Gourmet and one brave soul ordered a la carte.

At 1,090,000VND, the Menu de La Villa is a great choice for anybody wanting to sample a range of dishes without breaking the bank. The menu includes an amuse bouche, a starter, main course, cheese trolley and dessert. The portions are not large but the food is so delicious that it is worth every penny. We were also served an additional amuse bouche before we had chosen our menus and a selection of warm freshly-baked breads.

Melt in the mouth Crab Ravioles
Melt in the mouth Crab Ravioles

Standout dishes for us included the Melt in the mouth Crab Ravioles with Foie Gras Sauce, the Pan Seared Sea Scallop, the Beef Tenderloin, the French Duck Breast Pan Fried and, from the a la carte menu, the French Pigeon and Languedoc Red Wine Juice (a la carte dishes come in slightly larger portions). But to be honest, there wasn’t a single dish which we ate which wasn’t utterly glorious.

French Duck Breast Pan Fried
French Duck Breast Pan Fried

I must give the the cheese trolley special mention because it was one of the best I’ve ever seen. With a beautifully presented and wide selection of both well-known and more obscure French cheeses and chutneys, you are pretty much welcome to go to town on the trolley and try however much cheese you like. If you are a cheese fanatic, it doesn’t get better than this.

The Cheese Trolley
The Cheese Trolley

After dinner, Chef Thierry did the rounds and we were able to meet him and compliment the food. La Villa strikes this balance well; Michelin quality fine-dining, but with very friendly, personal and attentive service that keeps the restaurant removed from any pretentiousness. Admittedly the style and pricing means that for most people, La Villa will be a treat, but my word what a treat it is. I will be rushing back for the first special occasion I can think of.

If you are looking to experience fine-dining on a budget in Ho Chi Minh City, then La Villa also offers a set lunch menu including 3 courses and an amuse bouche for a 810,000VND – a gourmet bargain.

www.lavilla-restaurant.com.vn

 

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

 

 

Propaganda – Review by Ho Chi Minx

Propaganda – Review by Ho Chi Minx

Self-proclaimed ‘Vietnamese bistro’, Propaganda, was packed on a rainy Sunday night when we ventured out to try it. Overlooking the park beside the cathedral in District 1, the restaurant is a spacious room with high ceilings, and a pretty terrace at the front if you prefer to sit outside. The walls are plastered with brightly-coloured murals depicting various scenes of harmonious rural Vietnamese life. The decor and the upbeat music make for a fun, friendly and young environment. The punters were mostly foreigners, rather than locals, with the majority seeming to be trendy french expats.

Wall mural at Propaganda
Wall mural at Propaganda

The wine list was good, offering a range of wines and prices, including a few different rose wines to choose from. Propaganda also has an extensive cocktail list, but we stuck to wine, ordering a bottle of Sauvignon Plonk. Our helpful waitress suggested a few dishes to try and in we dived. We were brought some monkey nuts straight away – a touch we appreciated having had a few drinks on an empty stomach.

Propaganda Restaurant Saigon
Propaganda Restaurant Saigon

The menu has a large selection of fresh rolls to share as starters, and we were told these were something of a specialty dish. Coming in 10 bite size pieces the size of sushi rolls, we chose the chicken, avocado, brown rice roll with a spicy peanut dip. The texture was lovely due to the creamy avocado and the peanut dip was delicious, although it wasn’t spicy at all. My dining partner thought the flavour of the rolls was a little bland without the dip, and suggested that the brown rice might be accountable for this. I have a deep appreciation for the subtlety of avocados so they went down well with me.

Fresh Chicken, Avocado, Brown Rice Rolls with Spicy Peanut Dip
Fresh Chicken, Avocado, Brown Rice Rolls with Spicy Peanut Dip

Next we tried the BBQ pork with rice noodles, beansprouts and fried spring rolls. The dish is a warm(ish) noodle salad garnished with the BBQ pork and on a bed of spring rolls. Fish sauce came on the side to dress the noodles. This dish was fantastically fresh and light, as so much of the best Vietnamese food tends to be. The spring rolls at the bottom of the bowl were soft but still crispy – they added variety and substance to the dish.

BBQ Pork with Rice Noodles, Beansprouts and Fried Spring Rolls
BBQ Pork with Rice Noodles, Beansprouts and Fried Spring Rolls

Finally we tried the Vietnamese duck curry – we chose to have rice noodles on the side instead of bread. The curry was quite unlike most Indian-style curries – it was smooth, sweet and very mild. The dish consisted of a large duck leg and chunks of potato, covered in the curry sauce. We found having to tear the meat off the bone a little tiresome, but the duck itself was tender and tasty. On the side we were given chili salt which we were told was to dip pieces of duck into. The rice noodles made a surprisingly good accompaniment to the curry, soaking up the sauce better than expected.

Vietnamese Duck Curry with Rice Noodles
Vietnamese Duck Curry with Rice Noodles

We didn’t have desert, but the banana wrapped in crunchy sticky rice with coconut cream & crushed peanut looked rather dreamy. Instead we took the rest of our wine outside to the front terrace for people-watching.

For me, there wasn’t one item on the menu which didn’t sound appetizing, and my only regret was that we didn’t order more. Its a menu designed for sharing, with plenty of options but not an overwhelming number of dishes.

Propaganda serves up a large dollop of Saigon-cool alongside some pretty tasty food, and is the perfect place for a lively Friday night dinner with friends.

Propaganda
21 Han Thuyen. Q1,
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Tel: 3822 9048

www.propagandasaigon.com

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