Elevated Expectations

Serving French bistronomy 30 stories above Saigon

The display case of motorcycle helmets that greets guests at Cobalt Restaurant and Bar (Floors 30 and 31, Pullman Saigon Centre, 148 Tran Hung Dao, D1) signal that you’re in Vietnam. That some are gold-leafed or covered entirely in pink sequins or silver studs and chains with an Ed Hardy-esque flair indicates that you’re in for an unexpected experience.

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* Images by Ngoc Tran

Based on the concept of “bistronomy,” a blend of the complicated, technical aspects of fine French gastronomic cuisine set in the casual, affordable confines of a neighborhood bistro, Cobalt aims to serve up “cuisine de maman” (mother’s food), that is, if your mother just so happens to work in a Michelin- star kitchen.

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Much like the rules of bistronomy are hard to pin down (most simply agreeing that there are no rules, with highly trained chefs trying out highly innovative dishes without worrying about impressing stuffy patrons), Cobalt is unconventional. The space is surprisingly simple for a fine dining venue – stark, polished silvery-blue concrete floors meets tables set with purposely mismatched chairs made of teak and aluminum (recycled from old motorcycles by Vietnam-based contemporary furniture designer John Reeves) and a soundtrack that favors upbeat Mariah Carey classics over traditional classical or jazz. The Pullman brand skews towards the hip, cool crowd, and Cobalt Restaurant with its floor to ceiling windows on the 30th floor and the newly opened Cobalt rooftop bar (one floor above, the highest in Saigon) is the place to see and be seen. With no tall buildings in the vicinity, there’s clear line of sight straight to the Bitexco Financial Tower and beyond.

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Cobalt’s Chef Amine Lakhdari hails from Bordeaux, France (which my French dining companion from Alsace conceded was home to some of France’s finest food) and between his classical French training at three Michelin- starred restaurants including Paris’ La Truffe Noire and Apicius, and his forays into experimenting with Asian products (coming from Bangkok’s Sofitel So), he’s well-equipped to take on the bistronomy challenge.

Cloud of Vapor

While the creamy lobster bisque (VND210,000) leaned towards the traditional, the cognac foam was a pleasant departure from the regular sherry, as was the side of clam toast with a dollop of ruddy, saffrony rouille. And the starter simply labeled “Salmon” on the menu (VND200,000) belied the complexity of flavors encompassed in a meaty steak of salmon mi cuit, half-cooked by a salt, sugar and honey rub and topped with Chantilly cream  with an almost imperceptible tinge of wasabi, and an earthy green vegetable puree pitted against the tartness of a tangerine zest and the playful sweetness of orange caviar.


The mains exhibited that same dichotomy of traditional versus innovative. Whenever I order lamb shank (VND560,000), I know exactly what I want – flavorsome lamb slow-braised in wine, perched atop a hearty mash with a vegetable side. Some comfort foods should not be messed with, and are meant to be simply executed with perfection. Here, it’s done just right, the only nod to terroir being bok choy substituting for a more traditional side.

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Local products pop up in some unexpected places at Cobalt, speaking to Chef Amine’s newfound infatuation with Vietnamese ingredients, many of which he declares on par with what he worked with in France. Locally produced Marou chocolate makes an appearance in the Duck Pithivier (VND500,000), a succulent duck breast brushed in a dark chocolate gastrique before being baked in a buttery crust.


The dessert course was also a lesson in the unexpected. While the millefeuille (VND180,000) was impossibly flaky as all good “thousand layer” desserts should be, the result of folding pastry dough over butter over and over, the filling was tiny, perfectly cylindrical balls of apple, lightly cooked with butter and sugar, along with a squeeze of caramel crème pâtissière. Cobalt’s signature dessert, though ― liquid nitrogen ice cream (VND250,000) ― is as much alchemy as it is gastronomy, hinting perhaps at its place on the table of elements. The most delicious of science experiments in less than three minutes from start to finish, the ingredients are mixed at the table, producing instant ice cream in a cloud of vapor, the rapid freezing largely responsible for a remarkably creamy, dense texture.

Photo: Le Ba Hung - DT: 0934002218;

Bistronomy at Cobalt is all about appealing to the senses, where the finest ingredients are prepared with complex techniques and artfully presented in a relaxed, playful setting. Add to that the wrap-around views high above the city, and you’ll swear you’re in heaven… or at least well on your way there.

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