Discover gourmet Italian cuisine in the heart of downtown Saigon

On March 28th, ‘NAMO Artisanal Pizzeria (74/6 Hai Ba Trung, D1) marked its first anniversary by launching a new menu that draws on the seafood cuisine of the Mediterranean coast. Oi Vietnam was there to explore the venue’s new tastes of Italy.

‘NAMO’s corporate chef Ivan Barone is brimming with enthusiasm over his new menu—which effects a coming of age for a restaurant that continues to distinguish itself for prime dining a notch above what’s normally expected of an ordinary pizzeria. Updating the already finely-balanced menu has been an energizing exercise for Barone, a chef so dedicated to his craft that he regularly wakes in the middle of the night to scrawl down fresh recipe ideas for development at the venue.

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“We don’t want to be the classic Italian restaurant stuck with one menu for 20 years,” he emphasizes. “As the ‘NAMO brand, we don’t want our guests to get bored, so we want to follow the seasons of Italy—even though Saigon is always hot—and our chefs will also be motivated by preparing fresh menu items, so the team is more excited and willing to cook better.

The new menu represents something of a statement for ‘NAMO—a demonstration of the maturity of the brand. While artisanal pizza still counts as an emerging food fashion that has only really started to take off in the past decade—even in Italy—Barone’s reworking of the dishes on offer here is a passionate homage to modern trends in his national cuisine that suggests there remains much to be explored. It is an attempt to couch the more casual, comfortable elements of ‘NAMO’s fine dining experience in the complex subtleties of its more remarkable menu options.

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What’s important is Barone’s balancing act between the familiar and the more exotic new items. NAMO’s corporate chef is a composer of his recipes, and his new menu is an orchestral work best enjoyed for its subtleties, with a concentrated effort on the part of the diner to appreciate the delicate balance of tastes on the tongue.

In fact, our overall impression of the menu was one of intrigued surprise—nothing tasted quite as we expected. This was immediately evident in the Selection of Hot & Cold Seafood Appetizers (VND390,000) served as an eclectic range of bite-sized portions with capsicum and green bean sauces. The swordfish and salmon carpaccios were prepared in a simple overnight marinade to bring out hidden nuances; the moreish crab gratin was uncharacteristically warm in flavor. Perhaps the most interesting taster was the fried zucchini stuffed with swordfish with its perfectly understated body and freshness on the palate.

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‘NAMO’s Crab Tagliolini al Nero (VND390,000) is a classic of Barone’s signature style, with its homemade pasta infused with squid ink to enhance the intensity of the spicy crab ragout. The pasta is made from scratch, every feature bearing the craftsmanship and balancing of extremes of its creator.

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One of the more impressive-looking dishes is the free-range Baby Chicken (also VND390,000) folded origami- style with a crisp, golden skin and thin layer of Pommery mustard seeds pressed into the moist flesh. The marination process infuses the meat with fine herbal flavors before the fowl is grilled and served with roasted potatoes.

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‘NAMO’s food is art—whether you enjoy it casually or attentively is up to the individual diner. This principle extended into the desserts—we tried the deliciously moist Tiramisu (VND150,000) drenched with espresso and ultra-fresh mascarpone cream, as well as the Triple Chocolate Mousse (VND150,000), crafted to reveal contrasting dimensions in the chocolate for those who enjoy complex desserts not overwhelmed by their sugars.

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We barely scratched the surface of ‘NAMO’s new creations—intrigued diners should investigate some of the venue’s other premium dishes, which include the cherry tomato-infused Linguine with Spicy Lobster (VND450,000) and the Pizza Tasting Platter (VND490,000) featuring a mini-trio of authentic Stefano Ferrara wood-fired pizzas. If you do dine at ‘NAMO this month and drop off your name card, you’ll be in the draw to win a round-trip ticket to Rome or Milan from Thai Airways. Just remember, no matter when you experience this venue, be prepared to take your time with every mouthful—the restaurant’s careful attention to the poetry of its flavors are designed to reward the astute diner.

IMAGES BY NGOC TRAN