Hearty French fare in an alfresco setting in District 2…
Tucked away on a side street off Thao Dien in District 2 lies a French restaurant named Le Bacoulos (13 Tong Huu Dinh, D2). Don’t bother to run it through Google translate, for the word itself has no meaning, invented by the owner. To get the story behind the genesis of this year-old eatery’s moniker it’s best to chat with the owner, Frenchman David Genouin-Duhamel. While you’re at it, don’t be shy to ask for recommendations, as he is responsible for crafting the entire menu himself.
Originally from Normandy, David fell in love with gastronomy and the culinary arts, as the French are wont do to, while living in Paris. However, he took the plunge into owning his own French restaurants when he found himself living in Phuket, Thailand, for over a decade. Phuket’s loss is Saigon’s gain.
Le Bacoulos may serve French food, but the atmosphere feels more like antebellum Vietnam. You won’t find white linens, expensive crystal, or decadent décor here. Instead you’ll dine alfresco on simple wooden tables with wicker chairs, surrounded by lush tropical plants and ambient music that’s a pleasant accompaniment during your meal. If you relish the idea of a bistro in the tropical outdoors, you’ll feel right at home at Le Bacoulos.
The menu has more than a few options spread over a variety of categories. The starters were no exception with myriad selections to satisfy most palates. We opened with baked scallops in garlic butter (VND110,000), a straightforward dish, but a great measuring stick. Small and tender, they were exactly as they should be, and served with fresh bread to make sure none of the garlic elixir was wasted.
Our other starter, the salade gourmet in a nut vinaigrette, was comprised of duck confit, duck gizzard, and bacon mixed with baby greens and topped off with a poached egg (VND180,000), and proved to be a real showstopper. The duck confit was crispy and salty on the outside while the meat remained tender and moist, falling off the bone effortlessly. The gizzards, whose texture was more akin to sausage than organ meat, were delectable little gems, and bacon makes everything better. This starter could very well be a finisher for those who don’t have a huge appetite, or simply forgot to bring it.
Our desire for meat dictated the mains. We settled on an order of New Zealand lamb chops in herbs and served with ratatouille (VND250,000 for two chops, VND320,000 for three) and the flank steak topped with shallots and served with a baby green salad and mashed potatoes (VND260,000). Several other sides are available should you prefer them.
The lamb chops were ordered rare and didn’t disappoint. Served alongside a generous portion of ratatouille, sliced cherry tomatoes were sprinkled generously on top. The herb flavoring was distinct, but not overpowering, and proved delicious even for those who prefer their meats naked. The meat itself was tender and the gamey flavor that is often present in lamb was mild to non-existent. The chops were of sufficient size that two should be enough for most people, but the hearty eater, or people who enjoy sharing, can feel good opting for a third.
The star of our meal, however, was the flank steak. Also from New Zealand, David recommended it with such confidence that we didn’t bother asking about the other dishes on the menu that caught our attention. We ordered it very rare, emphasis on ‘very.’ Most kitchens seem apprehensive about serving red meat purple and tepid in the middle. If that’s how you prefer your steak, Le Bacoulos’ chef will not let you down. The flank steak was succulent and wonderfully textured. The generous portion of fried shallots heaped an extra, savory level atop it. After the first bite you’ll be ready to order another glass of the house red (VND50,000). Our choice of sides, mashed potatoes, also ordered on the recommendation of our host, were buttery, creamy, and the ideal complement.
You’ll need to catch your breath after a meal like that before braving the dessert menu. The chocolate mousse (VND90,000) was set squarely in our sights, but our host wouldn’t hear of us not sampling the lemongrass sorbet in strawberry sauce (VND90,000) as well. The mousse was rich and possessed of a delicate, airy texture that is its signature trait. The sorbet was refreshing, tart, and, once again, spot on as a recommendation. They were an absolute joy to eat, and we lamented finishing them.
For those who enjoy a more festive atmosphere, every other Saturday night they have live music that alternates between jazz manouche (aka gypsy jazz) and reggae.
Images by Ngoc Tran