Our diner discovers a brasserie evoking memories of bygone times
Nothing speaks French cuisine quite like the brasserie, that generous collision of the laid-back and the high-class that has become an institution on the streets of Paris. All smart, playful grandeur set off by a dash of art nouveau, the brasserie both captures and celebrates the joyous, heady spirit of Paris from the earliest days of the 20th century. La Brasserie de Saigon’s (38 Dong Du, D1) passionate homage to one of the most representative restaurants of its genre – brasserie Bofinger on the rue de la Bastille, where manager Séverine Jelineu was formerly employed – is as close to authentic as it gets in this town.
Climbing the narrow spiral staircase up to the intimately-lit second floor with all its grand mirrors, wood paneling, and plush furnishings is to go a century back in time on the other side of the globe – everything from the frenetic jazz and the art to the Paris Metro font on the bill of fare speaks of a certain French optimism that stretches across the class divide – just as it was before the Second World War. La Brasserie’s menu takes full advantage of this region’s access to fresh seafood, and the fruits de mer preside over the dishes on offer. While we opted for a taste of the sea in our choices of hors d’oeuvres – a classic bisque (VND130,000) and bouchée (VND200,000) – for mains we decided on a less obvious route to assess the strength of the chef’s range in the menu’s corners, opting for a chunky Joue de Boeuf Bourguignone (VND300,000) and a rack of lamb with eggplant caviar (VND450,000).
The Bisque de la Brasserie nicely avoided giving over supremacy to the hunks of fresh crustacean meat that can occasionally overpower this traditional creamy broth from the French coast, maintaining a strong, consistent blend of savory tastes. Our Bouchée à la Reine Façon Marée, a seasidestyle vol-au-vent with a creamy mushroom and seafood filling, was the lightest dish on the menu, and being able to taste clearly the simpler ingredients of the pastry shell was an unexpected delight in a city where Asian variants are generally chewy and bland. French haute cuisine is typically heavy and rich, and our mains were hefty and filling. This is tough-going food in a climate like Vietnam’s, but an essential treat for lovers of the fare. Pair selections from La Brasserie’s Viandes menu with strong red wines, and take the time to savor the chemistry of the sauces and marinades.
Our lamb rack was choice and mild, ideally enhanced by the smokiness of the eggplant and the creamy potato gratin, while the beef was exceptionally soft and moist in contrast with the firm rustic-style root vegetables that shared its deep gravy of red wine. La Brasserie de Saigon guarantees as many theatrics as possible in the dining room, and this is particularly the case with their signature dessert – the Crêpe Suzette, flamed dramatically in the dining room in front of guests. We’d been tempted enough by the sizzling butter and the whiff of citrus from the Grand Marnier liquor flambé, but the taste of oranges and light, fluffy vanilla ice cream that soaked into the cakes were a fitting last act in a fine culinary performance
Images by Quinn Ryan Mattingly