Tucked away in District 2 is a ‘Mad House’ – a place that hides itself in nature and reveals its transformer abilities depending on the time of day.
It’s nestled amongst a sweeping garden and a single-story villa. By day, the house is a relaxing place for a cup of coffee and a good book or a casual midday lunch; by evening it turns into a lively place for drinks and dinner with family and friends.
The Mad House (6/1/2 Nguyen U Di, Thao Dien, D2) belongs to Danish couple Camilla Bailey and Casper Gustafsen, and “mad” actually means “food” in Danish.
“We really wanted to create a place where you can feel like you can stay all day long,” says Camilla. “We have a hard time putting ourselves into a box. We really just want to make food that is good, simple, honest food.”
The couple originally came to Saigon to work as chefs at Chill Skybar’s restaurant 27 Grill but eventually branched out on their own. Casper manages the kitchen and Camilla has taken her culinary skills to the bar and front of house. The décor is a mixture of Asian minimalism with Scandinavian accents throughout, from the furniture to the multicolored tiles and lanterns made out of chicken cages and the woven patio chairs.
“This is everything we know and everything we’ve ever known since growing up. You can see that our focus is in the details, and I think it reflects in our food that we come from Scandinavian roots,” Camilla adds. “We both came from a place in Denmark where we had four acres of vegetables and a garden so we were 80 percent self-supplied.
“We try to source ingredients in the most natural way and make everything as fresh as possible so we don’t have a big storage or any big freezer.” The ingredients in the cocktails and dishes all are locally sourced.
We started off our evening with a refreshing cocktail. I decided to go with the Green Bourbon (VND125,000) made with thyme, sage, mint, whiskey, lime and honey. The bourbon wasn’t overpowering and the fresh herbs gave it a clean taste. My friend ordered a Mad-o-lada (VND125,000), their spin on a piña colada. “It tastes like summer,” Camilla explains.
It was time to move onto the starters. Seasoned with garlic and chili butter and splashed with parsley and lime, the scallops on the half shell (VND150,000) had a kick of spice, leaving us dipping our bread into the leftover sauce. The Mad salad’s (VND275,000) fresh greens, Serrano ham, prawn, goat cheese gratin and foie gras served with a light citrus dressing was a cooling balance to the scallops.
We then moved onto the mains, beginning with the chicken thigh dish (VND185,000) – a twist on a Moroccan dish presented in a Vietnamese claypot doused in a spicy tomato base alongside couscous, cucumber, tomato and onion relish and a yogurt dill dressing on the side. The chicken is marinated overnight in clovers, chili, cinnamon, oil, lemon, thyme and a hint of toasted cashews and then slow- cooked the next day allowing the chicken to nearly fall off the bone. The tender meat was spicy but a dab of the yogurt dressing perfectly cut through the heat. Hints of citrus and notes of cinnamon also peeked through, perfectly complementing it with the relish salad and couscous.
We then moved on to a crowd pleaser – the Iberian Secreto Pork (VND450,000). “Secreto” is a “secret” cut from the Iberian breed of pig in Spain that feeds on acorns, giving the meat a unique flavor. It’s paired with sides of grilled cabbage with parmesan cheese and chili butter, creamy wild mushrooms, grilled carrots with thyme, honey and orange – each served as a sweet and smoky balance to the rich, tender meat.
We were too full to indulge in any dessert, so we finished off with a light and refreshing iced tea (VND40,000) made with ginger, vanilla, cardamom seeds, green tea, chamomile and Earl Grey shaken, stirred and mixed into one – a perfect ending to ease us out of our food coma. Needless to say, you would be mad not to give this place a try.
* Images by Ngoc Tran.