Finding your way to mouthwatering dishes influenced from across the globe
With greenhouse window panes, rustic dark brown leatherback chairs, empty wine bottles strategically perched throughout and friendly waiters, the recently renovated Eleven Café (29 Le Anh Xuan, D1) is adding fine dining to its already popular café space. It’s that all encompassing place where you can sit with your laptop to write your next novel, bring your partner for an anniversary dinner, or have a power lunch to close that contract. This is owner Tran Nguyen’s own concept for a restaurant/cafe hybrid serving Asian fusion food with innovative, experimental drinks.
Eleven Café had my undivided attention when they brought out the first round of drinks. The Salted plum and spondias (golden apple) juice (VND65,000) was one of the most exotically wonderful drinks I’ve had, and in a country full of exotic drinks on every corner that’s saying something. Just the right amount of bitter, minty flavor with a bit of what can only be described as a mild green mango taste and, of course, the salted dried plums at the bottom that serves as a textural, refreshing journey. The drink was a recreation of the one Tran found on her trip to Australia, which she hopes to share with her customers in Saigon. My companion ordered the Blueberry Yoghurt smoothie (VND60,000), a comfort drink that takes one back to 1950’s Americana at a blueberry stand after an afternoon of harvesting.
After our drinks, the appetizers started to arrive. The Japanese scallops served with sweet potato, creamy truffle sauce and bacon powder (VND119,000) was fluffy and delicate, the truffle sauce and bacon bits the perfect complement to the small, tender scallops, and a spoonful of Vietnamese sweet potatoes topped the dish wonderfully – my only complaint was that I wanted more. The second appetizer was Ginger and truffle ravioli mushroom wontons served with poached egg, Vietnamese basil and truffle sauce (VND115,000). It was the best of both worlds in one delicious bowl of decadence, a phenomenal fusion of Italian and Asian cuisine that had the look of ravioli with the flavor of a wonton blanketed with their in-house foamy truffle sauce and poached egg that made an already creamy sauce even creamier. It was a delicious introduction that left us in hungry anticipation for the main dishes. Out came beautifully presented Roasted duck breasts with lemon leaf, duck spring rolls and caramelized apple (VND215,000). The breasts were cooked perfectly medium rare, and was redolent of my last trip to France. While the duck breasts were perfectly tender and juicy on their own, when dipped in the creamy pumpkin sauce served on the side or eaten together with the caramelized apple salad, the combination leaves you screaming for more. My homesick American companion ordered the Roasted tenderloin beef served with boiled bok choy and mashed sweet potatoes (VND215,000) with a tamarind reduction sauce and beef bone marrow perched on top of the tenderloin. Everything about it, from the spectacular presentation to the juicy tenderness of the steak, which could be cut with a butter knife, was topnotch gourmet.
Now I must digress to talk about the plating and presentation of the entire series from the drinks to the desserts. Every plate is a piece of art that even Gordon Ramsey would applaud. For the conclusion of our food adventure we ordered the most outrageous looking dessert on the menu, and it was truly so in every sense of the word – the Mango strawberry yogurt (VND90,000) came with a bed of frozen milk shavings covered in kebab- style roasted, ripe mango chunks as well as diced strawberries, mango glazed jelly and yogurt. It’s like a tropical carnival of sweets that seems to have come straight out of Rio de Janeiro – airy and light yet sexy and packed with flavors. The second piece was a bit more sophisticated than its flamboyant counterpart. The Brownie mascarpone with pistachio garnish and homemade coffee (VND90,000) was a comfort dessert all the way though, from its classic homemade brownie to the two accompanying elements of Italian excellence: the fantastic mascarpone and the cup of coffee to dip the brownie in.
Images Provided By Eleven Café