Dinnertime Interlude

Italian fine dining with a touch of romance at Romeo & Juliet’s

Tucked away in the basement of The Reverie Saigon is one of the best fine dining experiences in Ho Chi Minh City. The R&J Italian Lounge & Restaurant (B1 & Ground Level | Times Square Building, Enter via The Long @ Times Square, 22-36 Nguyen Hue, D1 & 57-69F Dong Khoi, D1), short for Romeo and Juliet, was recently redesigned so I headed to The Reverie on Nguyen Hue to check it out. As I walked down the stairs and was greeted by the hostess, some of the first features that stood out were the dynamic Italian mosaics stretching across the walls and the ornate candelabras overhead. The lighting was soft, perfect for a romantic setting, with the music, an ambient instrumental, adding to the mood.

Once seated our waiter brought over champagne and poured a complimentary glass as we looked at the menu of traditional Italian cuisine prepared with modern twists by chefs Giovanni Parrella and Enrico de Martino. We started with an appetizer called Giardino (VND188,000), which has a selection of organic vegetables tossed with truffle oil and a Sicilian orange reduction. The vegetables were fresh and crisp, and the truffle oil sapid, but not overpowering, while the orange reduction was a light accent on the palate.

GIARDINO (Organic vegetable selection, sicilian orange, summer truffle)

Risotto Ai Frutti Di Mare (Carnaroli rice, seafood, extra virgin olive oil)

Next came another appetizer, Polipo (VND198,000), which is pan-seared octopus with lemony potato salad, salmon roe and tarragon. The octopus was a nice, large piece that was cooked to perfection with the tarragon subtly applied, while the acidic accentuation and soft bites of potato was a proper complement. From octopus to grilled Nha Trang lobster served with Rustichella d’Abruzzo spaghetti in an ‘Aglio e Olio’ tomato-based sauce (VND288,000 per 100 grams). A savory dish with a complexity of flavors, this tender lobster was a meal in itself.

After our waiter refreshed our champagne glasses and the restaurant manager came over to see how we were enjoying our dinner, the chef began to serve the “Juliet,” one of R&J’s signature five-course meals (VND1,088,000). The first course was the Burrata, which is fresh burrata cheese from the Apulia region of southern Italy, with roasted tomato, oregano, basil and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil. The buffalo milk cheese was soft and creamy, with a faint essence of the fresh basil and oregano. Next came a distinctive soup called Ostrica, a thick, rich broth that contains Canadian Baynes Sound oysters, fennel and chunks of cooked fish.

01. R&J Italian Lounge & Restaurant

05. R&J Italian Lounge & Restaurant

Once the soup was finished the next course arrived, Risotto Ai Frutti Di Mare, which is Carnaroli rice with seafood and extra virgin olive oil. This rivaled any paella I’ve had, though tangier and without the hint of saffron. Now the next course in the Juliet is supposed to be slow baked Wagyu beef brisket with purple potatoes, porcini mushrooms and spring truffles, however, since I don’t eat beef they replaced it with the Acqua Pazza, which is the catch of the day fish fillet, with clams and cherry tomato in a Falanghina white wine guazzetto. The boneless filet was mild and tender, while the sauce was rich and velvety—a perfect yin and yang.

Tortino (Hot chocolate cake, vanilla ice-cream)

The last course of the five-course Juliet is the Tortino, a hot chocolate cake with a gooey center that is served with vanilla ice cream. Our waiter brought it over with a second dessert, a house-made tiramisu, which he put together at the table. We didn’t think anything could top the meal we’d just eaten, but the desserts proved us wrong. Even if you aren’t a fan of Italian food but have a sweet tooth, the desserts alone are well worth a visit to R&J.

Overall, R&J was a phenomenal dining experience, and it offers the type of dining experience that you should go out of your way to try, and I hope you will.

Images provided by WMC

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