A new restaurant is keeping the Gallic flame alive in the city’s dining scene
Just off Dong Khoi on the fastregenerating Mac Thi Buoi, sits Saigon’s newest French dining experience – Le Paris (45 Mac Thi Buoi, D1). Executive chef Serge Alain has spent 45 years in restaurants as renowned as Maxims in Paris and Tokyo, and le Pavillon d’Elysee in Paris. He’s lived in Japan, China, California and Macau and in early July chose Ho Chi Minh City as his new home, attracted by its relaxed lifestyle. By chance he met Vicki Nguyen and two other partners, and together the idea of Le Paris was born. Alain conceived the entire design and look, transforming a failed Japanese restaurant into a stunning multi-level upmarket restaurant with an open kitchen on the ground floor, a public dining area above, which seats just 36 in an intimate surrounding, overlooked by a private function room, and with a rooftop terrace still under construction.
It’s hard to tell the quality and style of the restaurant from the narrow street frontage, but when you climb the stairs you enter a room with stunning murals depicting the Eiffel Tower and the famous Moulin Rouge theatre. The decor is rich in cream and fawns, and the napkins are sculpted in such a way that they tower above the table creating a conversation point in themselves. Alain may have worked in kitchens all over the globe, but his focus is firmly on French cuisine and his creations are styled on recipes handed down through several generations of his family. “We wanted to do something different in Ho Chi Minh City,” Vicky explains. “We wanted to deliver authentic French food in a nice ambience.”
Le Paris has to be one of the fastest brick and mortar dining venues ever to pop up downtown. From conception in July, construction took just two months and the eatery opened officially on October 8. The biggest talking point is no doubt the open kitchen. It’s hard to miss – whether walking by on the street or dining there – patrons must walk the entire length of the kitchen (separated by a glass wall) to reach the stairs to the dining rooms. There are many restaurants in this town where customers would prefer not to see inside the kitchen, and very few where you can. But this one is modern, professional and spotless – all gleaming steel and not a scrap of wayward food in sight.
Le Paris offers a broad range of dishes covering all spectrums of meat and fish: snails, foie gras, steak, fowl, tuna and duck are all on the list of signature dishes. For an entree we shared salmon and daurado carpaccio basilic oil, (carpaccio de saumon et Daurade a l’huile de basilic) at VND210,000. Wafer thin salmon slices imported from Canada served with slivers of peeled lime, drizzled with basilic oil and sprinkled with rocket leaves. The combination of lime and oil complemented the delicate salmon flavor, making this one of the tastiest salmon carpaccios we’ve ever tried. Served on a large rectangular plate, the portion was generous – easily satisfying two as an appetizer.
For mains we were recommended the coq au vin de Brouilly, (rooster braised in burgundy wine sauce) at VND290,000. It was presented in an orange ceramic casserole pot, with a smaller green one of matching style. The large pot contained the rooster, braised in red wine, garlic, mushrooms and thyme and served with a crunchy pastry puff resting on top – aromatic and piping hot. It was delicious. The meat fell easily from the bone, the herbs and vegetables were full of flavor and the serving was so generous it was a challenge completing the dish. The smaller bowl contained a side of steamed farfalle pasta, served al dente, which offset the strong herbaceous notes of the main dish. My companion enjoyed the entrecote Francais de Lezere au poivre vert flambe au whisky (rib eye with green pepper sauce flambéed in whisky) at VND290,000. This truly has to be one of the best value steaks in town, belying the luxurious surroundings of the restaurant and the immaculate presentation. It was tender, juicy and pink and the sauce carried a hint of spiciness from the green peppercorns.
Both main courses were a good match to the 2013 vintage George Duboeuf Beaujolais the waitress recommended. After three generously sized dishes we really had little room for dessert but were encouraged to share a house specialty – chocolate cake with lavender cream (Moelleux aux chocolats guanaja Creme Anglaise a la Lavande) at VND210,000. We were glad we indulged. Rich chocolate cake the size and shape of a cupcake was served in a pool of creamy sauce with a smooth creamy topping, along with several strands of curved chocolate slivers and lemon zest. It looked like a work of art and proved to be everything a great dessert should be: rich, sweet and smooth with a strong slightly bitter chocolate and sweet cream taste, each perfectly balancing the other. We left Le Paris more than satisfied and with a bill of just VND1 million++ (excluding wine) for two mains and shared entree and dessert. Given the high standard of the food and the luxurious feel of the dining environment, this felt like exceptional value which perhaps explains why this venue has already become a favorite for some of the local Vietnamese celebrity set as well as those looking for a delicious French dining experience.
Images by Loc Nguyen