A charming restaurant with food inspired by tradition and Vietnamese moms

Nestled down an inconspicuous side street off Le Thanh Ton sits Quan Bui (17A Ngo Van Nam, D1), a culinary haven, which also happens to shelter us from an uncharacteristic downpours this time of year. Danh Tran, owner of the five Quan Bui restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City, defines his brand as “traditional Vietnamese dining. The food is for those who miss Vietnamese cuisine. People want a restaurant that reminds them of something from the past, like the food that their mothers and grandmothers used to cook for them.”

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Quan Bui is an authentically Vietnamese restaurant, and the aesthetic of the restaurant is a testament to this. Upon arrival, the first thing that strikes us is the décor, which is reminiscent of Vietnam’s days as part of French Indochina. The walls are covered in art deco posters depicting images from colonial Vietnam, a stark reminder of the relevance of Vietnam’s history. “Our signature is the past. It is the symbol of our restaurants,” he says. Even the rustic clay pots that are used to serve the food reinforce this theme. “I really like the 1950s and 1960s, which you can see in the tableware. It’s a reminder of Old Saigon.”

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We are seated at a table looking onto the bustling street outside, and we are pleased to see that the wine list is extensive, boasting grapes from across the globe. We settle on a glass of red and white wine each. The sauvignon blanc is crisp, with refreshing citrus flavors. The authenticity of the restaurant is further confirmed by the fact that the New Zealand merlot is served cold, in distinctive Vietnamese style. Following only a short waiting time, our starter arrives. Our meal begins with the Quan Bui salad with seafood and pomelo (VND139,000).

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This dish is unique because of the combination of both crunchy and chewy textures, a delight on the senses, and offset by a very clean dressing. The starter is placed in the center of the table, with the intention of sharing. Danh explains the logic behind this serving style, “It’s a family style of dining, and it has been going on for decades. When the family dine at the table, they have to share. We’re not used to having to divide into portions. I grew up in a big family and we always fought over our food. And we always had these clay pots—this is a reminder of that.”

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With the appetizer well and truly devoured, the deep fried Saigon style spring rolls with minced pork and prawns (VND99,000) mark the beginning of the main course. Beautifully presented on a bed of mint leaves, the rolls are cooked well with surf and turf flavors that greatly complement each other. As I am not a great honey lover, I am reluctant to sample the sautéed chicken with local honey sauce (VND89,000), but I am pleasantly surprised. The honey taste is subtle, and just strong enough to bring out the dulcet notes of the dish.

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Understated but far from simplistic, the next dish is the stir fried Tonkin jasmine flowers and garlic (VND79,000). The jasmine flowers are fresh, crispy, and seasoned with just the right amount of garlic for an explosion of flavors.

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The tangy soup, with chopped tomatoes and dill (VND119,000), is decadently zesty, with its strong flavor demonstrating the importance of herbs and spices in Vietnamese cuisine.

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The entire meal is brought together by the stir fried brown rice with chicken and cashew nuts (VND99,000), with the nuts creating a deliciously textured finish.

So whether you are Vietnamese and looking to revisit the nostalgia of the past, or a foreigner who wishes to become acquainted with the traditional elements of Vietnam, find both at Quan Bui.

Quan Bui Garden in District 2 (55 Ngo Quang Huy, Thao Dien, pictured above), with its spacious garden area, can be hired out for functions. It is ideal for weddings, birthday parties and private events. The indoor and alfresco restaurant features elegant soft walls, gorgeous tiled flooring, plenty of flora for shade, organic lighting and floor-to-ceiling windows.

IMAGES BY NGOC TRAN