Already well-known for its one-of-a-kind antiques, decadent desserts and high tea, Villa Royale has opened a second location in D1 to add comfort food to its repertoire

When I was approached to do a food review of an antiques and tea shop I was a little skeptical. Images of dusty relics and worn leather-bound books came to mind, hardly a spot to serve food right? I was wrong.

Villa Royale Downtown Antiques & Tea Room (Level 1, 25 Ho Tung Mau, D1) was in fact a wonderful epiphany for both the eyes and taste buds. In between a chicken shop and store, I found myself walking into a back alley where well-worn wooden steps spiraled upwards into a hallway that opened into a big, tall vaulted room. Immediately I could tell I was at Villa Royale Downtown. Various antiques from all parts of the world (all for sale) were hung, placed, stood, sat and nailed wherever there was space. Tracey, my gracious host, was there to meet us and explained their ordering process. I raised an eyebrow when she mentioned that they personally walk everyone through ordering the food, desserts and teas, however, this extra service is something that she’s made a point to deliver, another added benefit to Villa Royale’s character.

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Tracey and her business partner David Campbell are from Australia and, like all successful entrepreneurs, immediately recognized Saigon’s potential. Villa Royale’s first location opened in 2013 in District 2 and was mainly a tea place. Having fallen in love with this downtown building, they decided to open an expanded repertoire to include homemade Aussie comfort food along with a few robust Italian options.

We started with Swedish meatballs (VND220,000) languishing in a creamy demi glaze sauce. I bit into the tender soft meat and let the pure meat flavors flood my mouth.

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Next were Arrancini balls (VND195,000) rolled together in a celestial formation of Arborio rice, chicken, pine nuts and mozzarella cheese served with a side of homemade chutney. Typically, chutney wouldn’t go with this combo but after having tried it, I seriously debated whether to carry around a stash of this wherever I went (rumor has it this chutney may be available to buy in jars soon). I noticed it was a bit more sour sweet with a freshness of a Mexican picante salsa, rather than a jam sweet.

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For vegetarians, the rich tasting Spinach, ricotta and feta roll (VND195,000) is a must-order. It was hearty and rich.

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Spinach, Ricotta and Feta Roll & Blue Swimmer Crab Cakes

Following this, I was given an interesting dish, a Lemongrass chicken and coconut cream pie (VND220,000) that looked like a potpie but had a removable pie top crust. Light as a feather and flakey, the filling was a creamy combination of something close to a Thai curry with the slight bitterness of lemongrass combined with the coconut cream.

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My favorite of the evening were Blue swimmer crab cakes served with dill mayonnaise (VND260,000). My biggest complaints about crab cakes anywhere is that often they scrimp on the crabmeat. No such complaints here. Not only were the crab cakes large, they were crammed with loads of crabmeat. The fresh dill offset the heaviness of the potato and the lighter mayo let the crab flavor still come out subtly—a master chef move.

For Aussies who crave a taste of home, try the Lamington (VND90,000), sponge cake covered in Hershey’s chocolate and rolled in coconut shavings, and save yourself the cost of a flight back. Next up was a Carrot cake with both passionfruit icing and coulis (VND95,000). I found it lovely with stringy bits of carrot and hearty chunks of cake. The icing with the passionfruit seeds added a sour note and crunch to the sponge. The next generous slice of Warm banana and cinnamon bread (VND90,000) served with fresh butter was the stuff of Lake Wobegone (mid-west Americans know what I’m talking about).

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The next part showed off the sweet menu with several cheesecake options (VND95,000 a slice). Tracey mentioned that these were not NY-style cheesecakes, but rather an interesting hybrid of thick and yet light bodied cheesecakes. There was Hershey’s Chocolate & Peanut butter, Oreo Cookies n’ Cream, Dalat Raspberry, Creamy Mango, and Wild Blueberry Ripple. The homemade raspberry topping was superb. Extra blueberries were mixed into the cheesecake to give it the ripple effect.

Homestretch was a series of pies and tarts. The Chocolate & Macadamia Tart (VND100,000) was something I dreamt of a day later. The crunchy creamy macadamias combined with the sweetness of the chocolate was perfect. Next was an expat favorite, the Salted Caramel Pie with White Chocolate (VND95,000)—delicious. A slice of homemade Apple and Cinnamon pie arrived hot, fresh and brought back childhood memories. After this was a slice of Millionaire Shortbread Chocolate and Caramel (VND90,000). We went the extra mile and tried their freshly baked Scones with Dalat Raspberry Jam and freshly whipped cream (VND90,000). I would be highly skeptical if there was a better scone anywhere in D1.

I would be severely amiss if I didn’t mention the fantastic array of TWG teas they offered. My cup of “Eternal Summer” was the perfect complement to my sweets gorge. With an official partnership and distribution now in place with TWG, Villa Royale is able to continually offer the latest and greatest in TWG teas. Now excuse me while I climb several mountains to work off these sweet indulgences.

IMAGES BY NGOC TRAN