Behind Ben Thanh Market, on the second ﬂoor of a building across the street, is an intriguing foodie experience
Xi Xup Noodles & Tapas (Level 1, 31B Thu Khoa Huan, D1) is a small, intimate room, seating around 20 diners inside with room for an additional five outside. There are high tables with stools in the middle of the room and counter seating around the edges, complemented by a large window into the kitchen to watch the chef work his magic. Along the walls are displays of various types of noodle strainers. The room is air conditioned, with ambient hip-hop playing in the background.
Opened for just over a month, and with a menu as intimate as the restaurant, Xi Xup is difficult to describe. The chef, an import from Hong Kong, reluctantly calls it Asian fusion, but that fails to describe the unique gastronomic experience he creates. After sitting at a high table and pouring a can of Winking Seal craft beer, a Baby Fatso Dry Stout, the server brought over raw oysters with Sriracha caviar, cucumber and calamansi granita on ice (a half dozen for VND138,000) for us. They were smooth and subtle, just hints of the spicy Sriracha and the tang of the calamansi granite, allowing the flavor of the oysters and caviar to come through in waves.
Raw oysters with Sriracha caviar
Next came salmon cones, which are small miso cones with salmon, wasabi yogurt espuma, sea grapes and local herbs (VND128,000). The flavor of the cream hits first, followed quickly by the more reserved taste of the salmon, then a touch of miso and ending with a little heat of the wasabi in the back of the throat, like a puzzle of layers being put together with each small bite. Like any celebrated culinary delight, the flavors of the dishes at Xi Xup reach the palate in stages. After the salmon cones the server brought what they call The Last Jedi to celebrate May the Fouth Star Wars Day, which are handcrafted beetroot gyoza wrappers with wagyu and black truffle paste served with a soy and mirin dipping sauce (VND12,000k). While the wagyu is tender and savory, the truffle paste is distinctive and the dipping sauce offers a sweet complement. For the less adventurous this is probably a great dish to start with, and one of our favorites.
After the gyoza, we were served zucchini flowers with Xi Xup house XO sauce, goat cheese and shiso (VND108,000). There is a tempurastyle batter fried to the outside, yet inside the fresh zucchini is thick and ripe, understated compared to the bold spicy seasoning accompanying each creamy bite of the distinct flavor of the goat cheese. After devouring them, the server brought the next plate—razor clams with crispy pork rinds, vermicelli, dien dien flowers and a soy garlic sauce (VND98,000). The clams, fresh and splashed with the piquant soy garlic sauce, are locally sourced from Nha Trang while the noodles are handmade in-house.
We continued with our foodie journey with cauliflower in oat batter with salted coconut cream and roasted coconut chips (VND88,000). The cauliflower in oat batter was divine and savory, while the sweet coconut cream gave it the sensation of being part dessert, a wonderfully paired juxtaposition. After that the friendly server left another Star Wars-themed special, the Darth Vader, handcrafted squid ink noodles with clams, Dalat cherry tomatoes and a house XO sauce (VND108,000). A scrumptious dish with a citrus tang to the noodles, there was a slight spicy kick in the aftertaste, with the different textures of the noodles, tomatoes and clams countering each other playfully on the palate.
Despite being thoroughly stuffed by the array of dishes we couldn’t turn down the opportunity to have dessert, a brownie with local coffee beans, pecans, caramel drizzled popcorn, and served with an in-house condensed milk ice cream (VND68,000). The plate was cleaned of this velvety, sweet dessert too fast. It was so good, yet when I return I want to try the other dessert on the menu, a homemade tamarind popsicle served with chili prawn salt (VND38,000).
Xi Xup Noodles & Tapas offers a unique gastronomic undertaking for any foodies in Saigon and is clearly a great place to bring a date as evidenced by the couples that filled the restaurant. Don’t miss this singular dining experience: Portions are larger for brunch and tapas style for dinner. They have monthly specials and frequently experiment with new dishes based on the availability of fresh ingredients and the inspiration of the chef.
Featured image: zucchini flowers with Xi Xup house XO sauce
Images by Vy Lam and Xi Xup Noodles & Tapas