Saigon’s newest restaurant dishes up the best blend of French and Vietnamese cuisines

Local childhood friends Phuong and Long have teamed up to introduce Saigon’s latest fine dining restaurant The Haven (37A Tran Khanh Du, D1), an experimental French/Vietnamese fusion venue inspired just as much by Long’s former experiences at Stoker’s (where he studied under Head Chef Julien Thibault) as it is by the authentic traditional home cooking that the pair remember their mothers preparing in years gone by. The restaurant itself has been slowly cooking as a concept venue since opening in last October, a testing ground for a proposed central location location that the two cofounders plan to open once the menu is complete and the staffing and resources are all in place.

In the meantime, The Haven remains a go-to spot for wearied workers in a tough city seeking a “safe haven” from their nine-to-five. It’s located a short hop north of the business district in a quiet little enclave, close enough to remain accessible but well-concealed enough to still feel like a getaway. The venue features a punchy lounge bar downstairs, while dinner is served in a more low-key space on the first floor, a cozy little world unto itself with subdued lighting, mood music, and a smoke-free environment.

Oi VietNam - The Haven - Bar - Interior - April 3018 - IMG_5088

The menu presents a confluence between the French and Vietnamese cuisines, focusing on gourmet meat dishes served sliced up on carving boards to maximize flavor and visual appeal. Importantly, all ingredients are purchased fresh either locally or from abroad as non-frozen imports. Long has been working continuously on the menu since opening, refining each dish to more perfectly match the Vietnamese flavors of his childhood with the gourmet meat preparations he has absorbed from French techniques. The fusion cuisine he is developing as The Haven’s signature brand is intended to introduce international subtleties to the local palate, while gently drawing foreign patrons into the complexities of favorite Vietnamese herbs and sauces.

We tried a fairly broad selection of fine meat dishes, notably consistent in preparation and plating so as to present well as a collection; each is cooked medium rare at ideal temperatures and flushed in healthy colors, paired with custom salads, sides and dipping sauces.

Oi Vietnam - The Haven - New Zealand lamb tenderloin wrapped in betel leaf - April 2018 - IMG_5158

New Zealand lamb tenderloin wrapped in betel leaf

Cycling through the main courses, we started with a New Zealand lamb tenderloin with betel leaves (VND385,000), which was an immediate standout for its innovative take on a much-loved Vietnamese preparation—beef la lot—using imported lamb instead. The aroma will immediately summon up memories among diners who grew up with the original beef dish, while the quality of the lamb is well-paired with its soy balsamic garlic sauce (standing in for mint sauce in the Western tradition) and cassava. The dish was matched with another Kiwi import, the New Zealand grass fed rib eye steak with mushroom sauce (VND365,000, particularly wellpriced against other venues serving NZ beef ). The Haven’s offering is strong in flavor; the beef this season is notably richer and more marbled for the cattle having gorged themselves on New Zealand’s lush spring grasses. We move on to Haven’s roquette salad with salted egg yolk (VND110,000). The yolk is used as a deliberate alternative the parmesan cheese and is a well-conceived localization that adds an Asian character to this French dish, bringing a velvety richness to the crisp salad, which also features hunks of pickled radish. The salad is nicely set off by a salmon fillet with sauteed spinach (VND315,000) that has a perfectly crispy skin, dried before frying to give it a nice crackle on the tongue. It comes served with a wholesome honey mustard sauce, but be sure to ask for a twist of lemon to bring out the inherent fresh flavors of the dish.

Oi VietNam - The Haven - Salmon Fillet with honey mustard sauce - April 2018 - IMG_5162

Salmon Fillet with honey mustard sauce

A new item that has yet to be added to The Haven’s menu is the duck breast with fermented tofu sauce, bamboo shoots and watercress (the price isn’t set yet, but it’s likely to sell at around VND285,000). Duck, of course, is immensely popular in Vietnam, and this approach is unique in that it is prepared like beef. Long is particularly proud of this new creation: “This is my childhood right here,” he says, “it brings out all my memories of eating duck hotpot with fermented tofu.” A prime example of good French/Viet fusion, the watercress is crisp and green, and serves as  contrast to the flavor of the sauce so that it’s not overwhelmed by the fat content of the meat, making for a delicate balance.

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Warm chocolate brownies

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Tiramisu

The meat range is really the focus of the menu; it’s supported by a concise list of beverages and a small range of desserts depending on the day, each priced at VND65,000. We finished off with a brownie and chocolate ice cream and authentic tiramisu mascarpone, both prepared with the delicious richness and fullness of taste you’d expect from either the classic French or Viet traditions.

The Haven is enjoying a growing reputation for its well-priced and fascinating fusion menu among those who’ve stumbled upon the venue in the months since its opening, and word is spreading. Be sure to experience it in these early days in anticipation of the flagship restaurant we expect to see in central District 1 before too long.

Images by Vy Lam