With maps of old Saigon reminiscent of colonial times drawn expertly on the wall, Red Bricks (30 Ho Tung Mau, D1) conjures up an atmosphere of a time wedged between two eras: nostalgic Old European and the surprisingly chic 21st century Saigon.
The ambience of unforgiving modernity bordering on the realm of contemporary art purveys throughout this lovely establishment, yet keeping you grounded in the comforts of bygone times. The restaurant is a perfect spot to bring your significant other on that anniversary celebration or perhaps the ideal location to work up your courage and finally invite out your crush.
Sharing a platter of spring rolls amongst lit candles while surrounded by a charming blend of bricks and wooden panels was very romantic. Red Bricks is spread over three tastefully decorated floors, complemented by wonderful Old School black and white checkerboard floors. The service is nothing short of exemplary, the smiling wait staff always within reach for my constant barrage of questions concerning the ingredients and origins of the dishes, or perhaps a refill on my red wine, an all-around true embodiment of warmth and hospitality the Vietnamese are known for.
The restaurant, opened in October 2014 by Miss Vietnam 2006 winner Mai Phuong Thuy and her husband, serves mostly Vietnamese dishes, northern specialties and their chef’s fusion creations.
We ordered the signature Red Brick starter (VND119,000), a sample platter of four different varieties of stuffed rolls of seaweed and pork, mushrooms and pork, corn and crab, and “fish bread” (a bread roll instead of the normal philo dough with fish crumbles inside). The four kinds of dipping sauces – sweet chili, fish sauce, chili mayonnaise, and chili – complement the rolls deliciously.
The dish was delivered to our table together with the Red Brick salad (VND129,000). The salad was one of the best I’ve had in Vietnam, a wonderful kaleidoscope of flavors made up of shredded cucumber, shrimp and jellyfish served with a fantastic sweet chili dressing with a nice fiery aftertaste. And crispy fried shrimp wafers added texture and complexity to the salad.
After taking a much deserved breather and savoring our glasses of excellent JP Chenet Cabernet Syrah (VND120,000/glass) from southern France, the first main dish arrived – Northern-style fish filets served with noodles, chives, dill and, one of my all-time favorite garnishes, peanuts (VND149,000). The fish was spiced, battered and perfectly fried. It was comfort fried food that made me want to order a bucket and happily spend the rest of the evening indulging on these wonderful fried chunks of joy.
After a slight rest period, they brought out a steaming large Northern-style freshwater crab hot pot with beef shank and baby ribs (VND399,000). The smell of pungent fish sauce assaulted my nose as I removed the cover, while I eyed the floating cubes of fried tofu swimming in the red broth. Hot pots are one of those Vietnamese dishes that can somehow bring contrasting ingredients together into a hot boil and make it taste delicious. The sweet taste of crab meat, the buttery thin slices of the beef shank along with a heap of tossed in greens in the spicy tomato-based soup was an explosion of flavors. That withstanding the fresh beef shank cuts, obviously selected by a meat connoisseur, were perfectly suited for the hearty broth of fried tofu, tomatoes and ribs.
We ordered flan (VND25,000) and a passionfruit mousse dessert (VND25,000) to complete the evening. While the flan was typical of what you expect around Vietnam – bouncy, sweet custard – the latter served as a spectacular finish: light fluffy and just the right amount of both sweet and tart presented beautifully inside the fruit’s shell.