Innovative Japanese-Chinese cuisine at Saigon’s latest chic dining space
Le Meridien’s Bamboo Chic (Level 9, Le Meridien Saigon, 3C Ton Duc Thang, D1; 6pm – 1am) may just be getting warmed up, but it’s arrived in Ho Chi Minh City at the right time. From the décor to the dishes, Bamboo hits classy, well-pitched tones at the extremes of good taste and tunes in to the resonance of the space in between. In terms of the interior, this translates to a very comfortable approach to fine dining – plush bubble chairs stand for high-backs as you kick back and enjoy a five-star meal without the white tablecloth.
Diners start their meal with a free welcome drink of the day – we had a curiously flavorsome cranberry juice with vanilla in a shot glass – but consider yourself well-advised to follow that up with a real cocktail from the bar. Part of the pizazz of the Bamboo Chic concept is a certain boldness when it comes to its menu items, and in the case of beverages this extends to a healthy and inventive take on contemporary mixology. We had a Bamboo signature cocktail of light and dark rum with pineapple and citrus as well as a very fruity gold mojito with mango – both VND160,000.
One of the dangers of feasting on healthy Japanese/East Coast Chinese fusion food is that there tends to be little incentive for dining in moderation, and so we decided to gleefully indulge. We started with a paradigm of this crossover cuisine – a Peking duck sushi roll, paired with another variety using crispy filo prawn (VND190,000). Served on a checkered plate like chess pieces, this dish was an immediate eye-opener – easy on the rice and big on moist, tasty filling. Based on this starter alone we asked after the chef who created it; you can see Chef Cong fussing about in the open kitchen area, a young master we expect to hear more of in coming years. Bamboo Chic is lucky to have him for the time being.
Hand rolls are a relatively fashionable member of the sushi pantheon these days – Bamboo’s version is intriguing here for using a braised beef cheek reminiscent of the French tradition topped with seared scallop medallions (VND230,000). We followed this with one further taste-tester before our mains – a vegetable wakame salad (VND150,000) that deliberately blends diverse and opposing tastes and textures to achieve a Zen of the in-between – citrus, creamy avocado, sesame dressing, edamame beans, and seaweed. Take these elements together in each bite to explore the realms at the edges of your sense of taste.
One more appetizer? Why not. Bamboo’s seafood lemongrass broth (VND230,000) is proof positive that spicy and hot are not the same thing – this dish has an almost medicinal burn that doesn’t smart in the slightest. Immensely comfortable on the belly, this dish has an unexpectedly dense sweetness and a whiff like barley tea that leaves you feeling as if you’ve just enjoyed a session at the spa. We’re then snapped back to attention by the crispy prawn kataifi (VND250,000) served on a warm plate with a moreish tomato paste chutney that carries a hint of ginger.
It’s hard to say whether or not we overdid things on the earlier dishes, because the two mains that the kitchen rolled out next were possibly worthy of more distinction had we tried them on an empty stomach. If you’re not Japanese, udon noodles count more as an exotic treat than as comfort food, but Bamboo’s wok- fried udon (VND480,000) impressively set with a deshelled Canadian lobster is warm, lightly creamy, and tastes like home no matter where you’re from. The standing ovation, however, goes to the crispy braised pork belly dish (VND270,000) with its paper-crisp skin, braised for twelve hours so it’s almost as soft as ice cream, with only the thinnest sliver of fat deep-fried at the edge so that is cracks between your teeth like toffee. It’s served with a small serving of noodles piled up like a pasta dish with shards of cucumber and crisps of deep-fried pink ginger. This is the dish you’ll want to Instagram, so have your phone at the ready.
One more. Nothing on the menu is heavy enough to preclude dessert – we enjoyed Bamboo’s le baba savarin cakes (VND290,000) soaked to the core with Hibiki 12yo single malt, served with fresh mango and matcha chantilly. The cake holds its shape but has the texture of an ice-cold gelato for those who appreciate the taste of good liquor. Bamboo Chic is working on a lunch menu – when they launch that at some point down the track, you can be assured of a good meal, but this is a venue that really comes into its own at night, right at that point between glitzy glamor and meditative wellness, when the magnificent view over the Saigon River can be fully appreciated at its maximum depth. With big ticks for class, comfort, healthy cuisine and that stellar view, this venue simply cannot fail to impress.
For November only, Bamboo Chic is offering a two-for-one deal on wine by the glass and sake cocktails between 5pm-8pm, and on Sapporo draught beer from 5pm until close.
Images By Ngoc Tran