There’s a whole lot of love in Thierry Mounon’s story of bringing his unique style of French cuisine to Ho Chi Minh City.
Thierry Mounon’s La Villa in District 2 opened its doors on Valentine’s Day 2011. Less than six months later, with so many diners raving about their dining experience online, it took top spot on Trip Advisor’s rankings and has remained there ever since.
It’s not easy earning a number one ranking on Trip Advisor, and it’s stressful staying there, explains Thierry.
“First thing every morning I open my page on Trip Advisor and see how we’ve done.”
The secrets to winning the hearts and stomachs of Ho Chi Minh City’s expat community and a healthy share of the tourist dollar are authenticity, passion and training.
“You need to be proud of what you are doing. In a restaurant you cannot do the job without a lot of passion,” he tells Oi. It’s a pride he instills in his staff who he trains regularly so they stay abreast of the changing menu and maintain consistent standards of service.
“We train our team as we would train them in France.”
They’re tutored in gastronomy as well as service. Most of the staff have tasted a majority of the restaurant’s dishes, and last year Thierry took his restaurant manager to France to experience French cuisine in its birthplace.
La Villa is housed in a stunning white French villa that was originally built as a private house. It features tables outdoors dotted around a swimming pool, and a more formal dining room inside with high ceilings, an exhibition of German artworks (available for sale) and an imposing curved staircase leading to Thierry and Tina’s residence.
Tina, who recently gave birth to their first child, is his wife and manages front of house and marketing for the business.
The restaurant’s intimate space seats only 50 diners to ensure personalized service – so bookings are advised, especially on Friday and Saturday evenings. We found dining at La Villa was more of an experience than a meal, largely due to Thierry’s commitment to authenticity.
“I cannot forget my heritage,” says the chef, who hails from the south of France, a fact reflected in many of his dishes.
Adding to the experience is a continuous teaser of fresh warm breads proffered soon after being seated, expertly baked by Thierry’s godfather – a retired pastry chef. This is followed by a tasting plate of three delicious appetizers, our favorite being baby tomatoes dipped in caramel and served on a skewer – a sort of savory mini version of a toffee apple. It’s moorish with the soft juicy tomato exploding in your mouth when you crunch through the hard toffee shell.
La Villa offers several degustation menus that showcase Thierry’s southern expertise and range in price from VND730,000 – VND1.73 million. But we decided to choose our own starters and mains, all washed down with a bottle of 2007 Nova Roma Chateauneuf-du-Pape – which seemed like a bargain at about VND1.5 million.
Our favorite starter was a Caillette – a dish Thierry makes using his grandfather’s recipe. It’s a meatball comprising of pork meat, pork liver mixed with pork fat, thyme, rosemary, tomato and spinach and stuffed with goat’s cheese before being roasted. Caillette is a specialty in the south of France, and the Mounon family’s version is tender, tasty and smooth, an indulgence for pork lovers.
La Villa’s main course offer is broad, with a large range of fish and meat dishes to satisfy any dietary desires. The dishes we enjoyed have since been replaced by a new menu, but based on our experience, we’d highly recommend the roast Australian lamb tenderloin with thyme, rosemary stuffed tomato and snails ratatouille, or the Iberian Black pork lomo in sesame crust with broad bean puree, tarragon flavored juice and crispy pancetta.
Afterwards, there are plenty of sweet desserts to choose from, but you’d be mad to miss the cheese trolley. The staff here know their cheese and can recommend from a dizzying array of cheese blocks before slicing to choice; it’s a dose of theatre to round the night off.
Well almost round it off. Thierry’s team also serves a complimentary tasting plate of sweets – in our case a melt- in-the-mouth macaroon, together with a meringue and a soothing dose of homemade limoncello.
Starters here range from VND290,000 to VND490,000 for the seasonal pan fried scampi, mizuna salad and beluga malossol caviar cappuccino. Mains from VND410,000 to Canadian lobster for VND1.8 million if you’re really feeling adventurous with the credit card.
La Villa offers something very special for the romantic night out, a special occasion or for tourists with discretionary income – an escape from the chaos of downtown Ho Chi Minh City.
La Villa Rating:
La Villa is at 14 Ngo Quang Huy, D2, T: 3898 2082 / 090 812 8860 E: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Open Monday to Saturday: Lunch from 11.45am to 3pm (last order 1.30pm). Dinner from 6.45pm to late (last order is 9.30pm)
FOOTNOTE: How Oi reviews restaurants… Oi reviews restaurants anonymously. If our reviewer likes it we return to interview the owner so we can tell their story. Our reviews are independent and our own and are not vetted or approved by the restaurant prior to publication. We pay for our meals.
Images by QUINN RYAN MATTINGLY