Hip To Be Square

Conquering Novotel Saigon Centre’s Seafood Buffet

There are two kinds of people in life—those who plan and those who embrace the spontaneity of the unexpected. I fall into the first category and on a warm Friday evening, find myself mapping out a strategy to conquer the wonderfully formidable seafood buffet at The Square, Novotel Saigon Centre’s signature restaurant (167 Hai Ba Trung, D3).

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The Square serves up all-day buffet and a la carte offerings in a contemporary setting mixing honey-colored wood floors with a soothing, earthy color scheme of greens, tans and beiges. While the spacious open concept restaurant has various seating setups, including brightly-lit booths and family-style long tables (which tonight are being used by what looks to be a jovial office party), the intimate tables by the windows enjoy softer mood lighting, made all the more atmospheric by the soundtrack of breathy, jazzy covers of popular tunes. We arrange to arrive early and snag a table by the floor-to-ceiling windows, the headlights from motorbikes and cars below dancing like fireflies.

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We case the gorgeous food displays, conveniently arranged on islands and along a long counter by the open kitchen and grill area, gleefully strategizing our forays to maximize the offerings. Novotel Saigon evening buffet is known across the city for its incredibly fresh and plentiful seafood selection. A simple Vietnamese dipping sauce of salt, pepper and a squeeze of lime add brightness to the crab, mussels, jumbo shrimp and slipper lobster. I put blinders on to the bevy of tantalizing salads on offer, many artfully served in carved out namesake fruit, like the watermelon and parma ham or the pomelo with sliced pork. I make an exception to my No Salad Rule for the Thai salad with swimmer crab, the julienned cucumbers and onions adding a crunchy component to the chunks of crab tossed in a light fish sauce-based vinaigrette, as well as the mango salad with prawn, a tropical burst of mango that complements the natural sweetness of the whole, peeled jumbo shrimp.

The Square offers a fine selection of meats that would star in any respectable Sunday dinner lineup and we sample the slow-roasted beef accompanied by a rich mushroom sauce, crispy pork belly with sweet plum sauce, and a delicately flaky salmon Wellington.

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However, the crown jewel of the buffet is the fresh seafood cooked to order in a show kitchen with a massive gas-fired oven. We select our proteins and cooking techniques, placing an order with the waiter and soon the grilled seafood materializes at our table – rock lobsters with garlic butter, slipper lobsters smoky with melted cheese, and scallops topped with scallion oil and peanuts. We take advantage of the extensive list of cooking methods and order dueling white and surf clams, half steamed in a spicy Thai broth chockfull of fragrant lemongrass and kicky bird’s eye chilies and the other half steamed Vietnamese-style in lemongrass and basil leaves which bring out the natural sweetness of the clams. I spy oysters Rockefeller on the list, a rare treat, and order four hearty oysters topped with spinach, cheese and ham with a perfectly toasted crust of bread crumbs. They more than live up to their name, so rich with butter and cheese, they were named after the richest man of the day. We have slices of orange between each of our many gluttonous plates, the acid serving to brighten the palate and balance out the richness of the meal.

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The Square prides itself on its homemade desserts which occupy their own large island, daring diners to leave room for colorful macarons, light-as-air panna cottas and decadent baked goods. I choose a red and black theme just for kicks, limiting myself to a beautiful opera cake filled with fresh strawberries, a flaky berry tart and a scoop of rich chocolate ice cream topped with berry compote, fresh whipped cream and a sprinkling of pistachio nuts.

While there were regrettably dishes left untried, we are thoroughly satiated and have most definitely gotten our money’s worth from this superb meal. We head out into the night, already planning our next assault on this most decadent of Saigon seafood buffets.

The nightly seafood buffet at Novotel Saigon Centre is priced at VND 1,109,000++. Upgrade to a free flow drink package including wine, beer, soft drinks and juices for an additional VND 250,000++.

Images by Vy Lam

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