Canada has a big marketing problem, and it is this: while any Canadian can tell you that their country is home to some of the world’s finest-quality beef (much of which is farmed on free-range ranches in the western prairie province of Alberta) virtually no one outside Canada’s borders has any clue that this is the case. Albertans find this a particularly inconvenient best-kept secret, as it means that every time they visit a steakhouse in any other country, they just know that they’re going to be disappointed.
This is exactly what happened to Albertan stock investor Ho Ngoc Tien, who has been left languishing for the kind of tender rib-eye he enjoys at home for the past three years since returning to the country of his birth. While excellent Australian, American and Japanese beef isn’t all that difficult to find in Saigon, unless you’ve had the chance to go Canadian, you won’t be aware that it stands up remarkably well beside even these most distinguished of cattle lineages. The ultimate solution to the problem, for Tien, was to invest, start importing the meat, and open a venue in Saigon dedicated entirely to showcasing what he believes is the best beef in the world.
He may be right. Canada Steakhouse (219c Pham Viet Chanh, D1; Facebook: Canada Steakhouse) is a surprising venue that may see diners switching loyalties as they sample cuts that rival the texture of rare Japanese wagyu and the umami of a thick Aussie barbecued steak. Part of this surprise is down to the location too – slightly removed from the center (although still within the boundaries of District 1), the address may seem more befitting of a casual, local-style eatery. This is, however, nothing less than a premium venue – and while the atmosphere is indeed decidedly relaxed, the service and presentation are distinctly five-star, and the excellence of the cuisine makes this restaurant ideal for getting away from your usual cluster of regular favorites – as well as appetizing enough to ensure plenty of return trips.
Canada Steakhouse will appeal to all fine-class diners, making for an impressive date venue just as much as it does a fun gathering place for groups. Each of the three floors has its own distinctive décor, the standout of which is the top-level garden with its safely-enclosed yet open air feel and rows of hanging rosemary and other herbs, providing fresh garnishings for the steaks. This gives away another of the restaurant’s surprises – most of what’s served is either invented, grown, or made from scratch in-house, courtesy of veteran Chef Vu – formerly of various top-level resort and restaurant kitchens nationwide, and currently a highly-respected teacher of the culinary arts.
Experienced in the exemplary quality of Canadian beef steaks from his earlier training in Singapore, Chef Vu presents a somewhat frisky fusion menu, each dish playing to the finest elements of the beef. A superb introduction is the beef tataki (VND205,000), a favorite in Canada that obviously hearkens to Japanese sashimi just as much as to an Italian carpaccio. Although in the Homeland this dish is often served uncooked, here it’s pan-fried at the edges to tighten the slices up and give it a deeper shade of red. Think of it as you would sushi – it’s served with a Japanese sauce and a touch of garlic – and make your first bite the moment when you decide Canadian beef is for you. This will help to elevate your anticipation for the moment when the steaks roll out. Before they arrive, do freshen up with one or two signature cocktails from the restaurant’s high-class bar – you can take it on good authority that the bartender is very generous with the proportions of liquor.
Which steak you select is down to personal preference, of course, but what I will say is that you have a tough choice ahead of you. If you’re a purist, select an unadulterated filet (150/200/250g at VND459,000/VND615,000/VND765,000) with one of Chef Vu’s own gourmet sauces – the house specialties are quite unique, the most intriguing of which being the tamarind and the red pepper with saffron (both just VND50,000). Selecting a straight up steak with sauce like this will bring out the youthfulness of the veal – these are not tough, heavy cuts as you’d expect from most Western-style steaks available in this city – and you’ll be able to taste how the fine fatty layers have soaked into the meat to make it more tender and flavorsome.
There are several other steak preparations to try, however – and my weakness was the coffee beef marination (150/200/250g at VND 469,000/VND605,000/ VND745,000). Soaked for two hours in an imported Italian espresso mixture with various other secret ingredients, the coffee meat is seared to induce a rich charcoaling, which – when biting into the rarer steaks – yields a juice that will appeal to anyone’s caffeine addiction. It’s served on a bed of Mexican rice, and pairs particularly well with the mashed potato (intensified with crushed apple, VND75,000) or the stuffed eggplant (VND97,000) from the vegetarian menu – and yes, there’s plenty here for herbivores, not to mention a well planned kids’ menu (the star attraction of which is a burger with a bright red bun at VND79,000). I’d also be doing the chef a disservice by not mentioning the sublime desserts available at this venue – I swear on The Maple Leaf that it’s worth visiting Canada Steakhouse for the chocolate spring rolls (VND76,000) alone, and cheesecakes (VND87,000) this good are similarly rare in Vietnam.
If I’ve done my job, you may by this point be swayed towards the faith as far as Canuck beef goes. Canada Steakhouse may end up being the decider for your next holiday destination – Tien swears that even pho and banh mi tastes better there than it does here owing to the superior beef – but in any case, let’s hope the Canadian marketing people come and take a look at what’s going on at this venue, as those guys could probably do with a few ideas.
Images By Ngoc Tran