From teppanyaki grilled steaks to burgers and pastas, Ember aims to please everyone
They warn you to avoid trying to be all things to all people, but there are some rare instances in which this not only works, it’s also necessary. If you’ve ever dithered about where to take someone out to dinner for more than ten minutes, you’ll appreciate the value in having a place you can go that’s guaranteed to please absolutely anyone who might walk in the door—and Ember (Level1-07, Saigon Center, No. 65 Le Loi, D1) is just such a venue. It has one of the broadest possible menu profiles; the décor fits the bill for a classy night out just as much as it does for casual dining; and with a top-notch Japanese chef who has 20 years of experience in French cooking, there can be no cause for complaints about the quality of the cuisine.
Ember’s choice to have something on the menu for almost every possible diner is a very conscious strategy, and it’s really the restaurant’s location in the grand lobby of the flashy Takashimaya mall that makes this flexible approach key to its success. Ember’s prominent position right next to a pair of high-profile cafés skirting the main entrance on Pasteur means that foot traffic is unusually high, and the shopping center setting means customers of any description could drop by at any time of the day or night for a coffee, snack, or several-course meal. Ember is deliberately purposed to accommodate all, and its relaxed, Bordeaux-vineyard vibe with plush leather seating and decorative styling heavy on the wine bottles manages to conjure up a dining space that successfully veils the muzak and fluorescent-tube exterior despite the open-plan interior design.
The restaurant’s positioning is far from experimental or accidental, but backed up by experienced Japanese investment group Dinelike—according to its General Director Mitsuhiro Tomita, the parent company operates over 30 restaurants of all descriptions back in the home country, as well as a handful in Singapore—this is their first in Vietnam.
While selecting a steak for our review was a natural Western indulgence—made easier by the fact that the choice 200g American rib-eye, usually VND559,000, is currently discounted 25% until the end of June— it’s actually worth going over what we didn’t choose just to drive the point about Ember’s broader appeal home. Its menu reads like a comfort food checklist for every possible Takashimaya customer—from Japanese teppanyaki rice through to home-made burgers and popcorn chicken. A full pasta selection includes Italian favorites as well as Japanese Naporitan spaghetti and Thai soft-shelled crab, while local clientele may settle for some pho or Vietnamese beef stew. There is a whole collection of different types of French fries, as well as a selection of French sandwiches and bakery items.
But steaks it was, and they were perfectly-done, served with custom- made sauces (we chose a mildly spicy black pepper for one and a mushroom demi-glace for the other) and sides—for the former, a health-conscious sautéed spinach salad, and the latter a more decadent crispy fries. The steaks paired well with a fine Argentinian cabernet sauvignon (Terrazas de los Andes ‘Altos del Plata’ at VND175,000/glass, a particularly concentrated, elegant wine) while being nicely offset by a frozen “Vietnam look” cocktail with lemongrass syrup & lime (VND98,000).
The broad menu allows for a suitably fabulous desserts section, and in our case the French toast offerings seemed far too compelling to pass up on. Ember’s servings are warm and soft, piled high with toppings—we shared plates of banana & coconut alongside a tiramisu, both priced at VND99,000.
Like the mains, desserts were meticulously prepared, which, as a glance at other tables revealed, seems to be the norm at Ember—so whether you’re stopping by for coffee to take a break from your shopping, bringing the whole family along for a great meal, or trying your best to impress on a first date, you can be confident that there will be something on the menu for all, and that whatever you select will be made to perfection.
IMAGES BY NGOC TRAN