There are few better ways to enjoy Saigon than from above, cocktail in hand, with live music in the back
It is rare that all the best parts of an evening out come together in just one place, but they do at Zen Rooftop Bar (Level 10, 3-5 Suong Nguyet Anh, D1, Fusion Suites Sai Gon), where Friday is all about good music, delicious tapas and dazzling views of the city. An added bonus (when we visited) was a generous combination of deals that allow you to enjoy half-priced cocktails, free tapas and live music (every Friday from 8pm-9pm).
On our visit we arrived as the musician was just setting up with his acoustic guitar. His set began with an original interpretation of Uptown Funk by Bruno Mars, and we happily started on Zen’s signature cocktails. I tried a Desert Rain (VND150,000), a wonderfully complex fusion of bourbon, cranberry and lychee. My partner chose a gin drink, the Rose Titanic (VND150,000). Aside from a great name, the Rose Titanic had fresh thyme and rosemary with a touch of lime juice and egg whites. The cocktails are two-for-one during Happy Hour from 5pm until 7pm, so our advice is to arrive early and enjoy a view of the sunset with your drinks.
Visitors to the live acoustic nights on Fridays are treated to free flow tapas for the hour, while at other times guests can order directly from Zen’s fusion tapas menu. Our first round of tapas started with beef lemongrass skewers (VND60,000), a dish originating in Hue. The beef was grilled well, holding both its moisture and the delicate taste of lemongrass. The skewers were served on an elegant slate tray and garnished in a light sauce with shallots.
The artist performed a beautiful rendition of Ben E. King’s Stand by Me and we started on a plate of lollipop wings (VND60,000). However, these were not your ordinary chicken wings; they were breaded and baked then elegantly presented with spicy mayonnaise sauce. The spicy mayonnaise sauce, containing a hind of lemon rind, was a favorite at our table.
Next up from the worldly kitchen was a tuna and scallop ceviche (VND80,000), cleverly served in a small inverted non la. The ceviche was prepared Peruvian style with some well-chosen regional ingredients, including sesame and chili as well as Japanese Ponzu as the citrus base. The result was applause worthy; the scallops provided an ideal accompaniment for the firm tuna, and the fresh Ponzu and herbs imparted a crisp finish.
When the final tapas for the evening was brought out it was quite clear that the musician was not the only talented artist at Zen that night. The chef introduced his original creation: the tuna tacoshimi (VND80,000). A brilliant fusion of taco and sashimi, the tacoshimi had freshly fried tortilla chips carefully layered with avocado, wakame, caviar and wasabi mayo. Topping it all was a gorgeous slice of tuna sashimi, lightly seared on the edges. The presentation was stunning, and the taste was unforgettable. The creamy avocado paired with the wasabi mayo was a smooth counterpart to the crisp chip, while wakame and caviar danced a salty tango in the background.
Zen Rooftop Bar features a cozy indoor space with soft lighting and beautiful cedar woodwork, as well as an encircling outdoor terrace. The calming layout and decor certainly seem to draw inspiration from the school of Buddhism that is the bar’s namesake. Moreover the space feels intimate, regardless of the number of people present. On nights with live music this coziness is reinforced by the presence of the performer, playing acoustic sets in the middle of the indoor space, without a sound system. The musicians that perform at the Zen Rooftop Bars are artists that have been selected from the hotel’s special music competition project to support young talents in Vietnam. While the singer played his last song, we slipped out to the terrace, which was a phenomenal space to spend an evening. The view made an instant impression on us, although it took a little while of sipping on our drinks before we understood what was special about it—is was just far enough removed from the larger buildings to offer a complete skyline. With Tao Dan Park between you and the traffic, the night feels quiet (a rarity in Saigon) and a cool breeze is almost constant, a perfect ending to a great night.
IMAGES BY NGOC TRAN