Vietnamese Countryside Dining With A View
Who would’ve thought that in the middle of downtown Saigon, amongst the high-rises, noise and cars is a little countryside oasis. Located on Le Loi, Mountain Retreat (Rooftop, 36 Le Loi, D1) offers what it says on the tin, “a retreat in the mountains”— the “mountains” being the city in this case, and probably the location as well because you have to climb five flights of stairs to get to the “retreat”—consider it a workout to earn your dinner. Red lanterns along the stairways lead the way so no sherpas are needed.
The space is divided into several areas: the main floor with a half indoor, half outdoor dining area, a back patio and the kitchen. Everything is open plan and unless you sit right in front of the air-conditioning unit you’ll have to rely on the occasional breeze that comes by to cool you down.
The restaurant has a cozy countryside atmosphere. Clay covered walls, vines and ivies crawling everywhere, ceiling covered in bamboo and antique chairs and tables complete the Vietnamese hut feel. Everything is kept in simple muted earthy tones, even down to the staff uniforms. This is definitely what I imagined the idyllic side of Vietnam to look like— Buddha statues, claypots holding stalks of lemongrass, old books, beautiful pottery and sculptures complemented by relaxing instrumental music in the background. With its come hither pull, it’s easy to plop down here and miss the rooftop dining area one floor above. Persevere up one more flight and you’ll be rewarded with a view of the Bitexco Tower, Chill Sky Lounge and the rest of the city’s skyline. This is not your glitzy rooftop bar; it’s a garden oasis with great views that serves Vietnamese food in an atmosphere where it’s easy to have a good conversation. It’s a place you’d want to bring visiting friends to.
The menu is traditional Vietnamese with claypot dishes, salads, barbecued meats and seafood along with vegetarian options. With such a broad selection to choose from, you can either go with the staples or get a bit more adventurous. The restaurant recommends two to three dishes per person depending on your appetite. As we felt pretty hungry when going for dinner we ordered seven dishes between two of us and came out stuffed.
The chicken salad with banana flower (VND75,000) was very fresh and the herbs used gave it a cool, summery taste, however, it also had a spicy kick to it so make sure to order a side of rice to put out the fire.
We chose the Fried rice with garlic (VND75,000), which had a hint of garlic so as not to overpower the rice (or the entire meal). My favorite was the steamed rice roll with grilled pork (VND75,000), a light, flavorful dish that had extra crunch with its generous peanut and roasted garlic toppings. It was a nice balance to the meat dishes we ordered.
The braised pork with lemongrass (VND65,000), for example, had a nice subtle ginger taste.
The pot-braised mackerel fish with tomato sauce (VND65,000) came as a whole chunk of fish while the braised mushroom and tofu (VND65,000) had plenty of delicious sauce that we ended up pouring onto our rice.
Our waiter also recommended we try the fried back ribs with lemongrass and chili (VND85,000), popular among diners, and we weren’t disappointed.
On the drink menu you’ll find pineapple and watermelon juices, of course, and some more unusual choices like amberella and gourd (each at VND45,000). Throughout the evening the staff were friendly and while they were there to give recommendations and help with the menu they left us to enjoy the atmosphere, which added to the relaxed evening.
Mountain Retreat definitely comes to shine in the evening and I recommend visiting for dinner and make sure you’re seated on the rooftop for the great views. You’ll come out refreshed and ready to climb any mountain.
IMAGES BY NGOC TRAN