Domo Arigato, Mr. Robata

Within HCMC’s Little Tokyo is a new standout Japanese restaurant DISTRICT ONE’S LITTLE Tokyo along Le Thanh Ton is hardly short of Japanese venues, but you’d probably have to be Japanese yourself – or at least intimately familiar with the culture – to spot what’s been missing. From the overly-vibrant sushi platters to mispronounced greetings uttered distractedly by kimono-clad Vietnamese girls … Read more

Not Just for Sundays

Eat to your heart’s content at Market 39 (InterContinental Asiana Saigon) There’s something magical about the phrase ‘all-you-can-eat buffet’. Even the most sedate individuals display the sort of exuberance reserved for the proverbial kid in a candy store. I light up with joy at the prospect of piling my favorite foods on a plate as … Read more

Interpretive Eating

A Scot brings a unique combination of flavors to whet your appetite In a city with such a vast array of international cuisines aimed at expats and more adventurous local diners, hotel dining options are often overlooked. In the case of Reflections, on the third floor of the Caravelle Hotel, that’s a shame because Executive … Read more

The French Factor

How Vietnam’s colonial period has influenced some of the country’s signature dishes… ONE NIGHT MY Vietnamese husband surprised me with a new dish. “La goo,” he pronounced proudly, “It’s French.” His la goo was a flavorful stew of pork, potato and carrot, served with rice. “La goo,” I repeated, incredulously. “That doesn’t sound very French.” … Read more

Sharing is Delicious

Blanchy Street is a unique Japanese fusion restaurant where the best experiences are to be had from sharing…

Open 15 months , it’s possibly the city’s best kept dining secret – until last November it was hidden away above Blanchy’s Tash bar and nightclub on Hai Ba Trung. As executive chef, Australian Martin Brito, explains, “No one knew it was there. They didn’t think of Blanchy’s Tash as a place to eat, but as a place to drink. But we always got positive feedback about the food.”

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So last year the decision was made to move the restaurant to a stand-alone location and Blanchy Street was born in a converted office building just inside the entrance to Ho Chi Minh City’s eatery courtyard. Now, thanks to a unique menu and high profile location, it’s beginning to flourish, with patronage rising by the month as word spreads.

Brito has been cooking Asian food for 10 years. His career began under Peter Doyle, who owns seafood restaurants bearing his name that every Sydneysider knows by reputation. More recently he spent seven years with world renowned Japanese restaurant Nobu in London. It is Nobu that inspired Blanchy Street.

“I’m not Japanese. So I worked in a very good Japanese restaurant for a long time. I also did Thai food for a long time. I like to mix and match flavors the way I like to eat and I like to make the menu so it’s something for everybody – Westerners, Vietnamese and Japanese,” explains Brito. “We are not authentic Japanese, we are Japanese with a twist – with my take on it. A few dishes on there are traditional Japanese, the rest are a mixture.”

Our Meal

It’s hard to imagine a more welcoming atmosphere than walking through the gates to Blanchy Street. One first passes through an outdoor courtyard – the only part of the restaurant where smoking is allowed – then past the sushi counter where sushi chef Yogo Oba, also ex-Nobu, leads a team creating fresh fish delicacies in front of a wall featuring a myriad of sake varieties.

We chose to dine upstairs for its more intimate atmosphere and were sat at a table flanked by oversized Japanese vases under the watchful eyes of beautifully-painted Asian women staring down on us from white walls. The upstairs dining area feels warm and even intimate, like a modern designer apartment – the tables are not too close together, and the half walls remaining from the conversion from office to restaurant mean you enjoy some privacy.

We asked the waitress for recommendations from the menu and selected three of her four choices. Green chili tempura Blanchy style (VND65,000), strictly speaking more of a Vietnamese dish than a Japanese one, comprised delicious fresh green chilies lightly dipped in tempura batter and shock fried, served with Shichimi pepper and fresh lime – they were crunchy on the outside, moist in the middle, but don’t eat the top tenth unless you love spice – that’s where those tiny seeds lie in wait to torture your tongue.

Beef gyoza (VND280,000) was next up. Ordering fried gyoza can be a lottery – some Japanese restaurants store it too long then fry it too long, and the result is a chewy shell filled with lumpy beef you have to douse liberally with soy sauce to get any flavor. This is not one of them. We hit the jackpot here, the gyoza soft and moist in the middle, the minced imported beef full of flavor. The texture of the wrap was lightly crispy and fragile, doused in a piquant sauce and sesame oil. Since our meal, Brito has refined the dish, adding foie gras to the beef for additional flavor (the price above is for the new version).

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The Norwegian salmon with yellow and red anticucho sauce (VND380,000) was fresh, moist and tasty, a generously-sized fillet silky smooth on the tongue. It is slow cooked skin-side-down to a crisp and served with fresh lime. And our fourth dish, Blanchy Street’s most-ordered, the chicken Blanchy style (VND330,000), a half bird. This is Brito’s signature dish, completely original, a rarity in this age.

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“That’s my baby, my dish I created from scratch,” he explains a week later when we reveal that his restaurant has been reviewed for Oi. “It took me years of playing around with it. Basically I marinate the chicken for three or four days then pan roast it to keep the moisture in. That’s our biggest seller by far.”

We washed this delicious meal down with a bottle of Zonin Classici Fruili D’Aquileia Pinot Grigio (VND920,000), which turned out to be a perfect accompaniment to three of the four dishes.

Brito’s business partner Yves Dubos, (who manages The Refinery across the courtyard) says Blanchy Street is focusing more on its extensive range of sakes than wine. Brito says most of his dishes are best matched with sake or white than red, although they stock a generous range of all to satisfy all comers’ tastes – and try to differentiate the wine list from those of neighboring eateries.

While Blanchy Street offers a superb destination for a romantic dinner, it is best enjoyed in a group. A new menu introduced in March tries to encourage diners away from the Western fixation with ordering starters and mains: instead food is grouped into categories.

The food tends to arrive close together, served in the center of the table, to encourage people to share them and mix the flavors. In our case, we were so enamored with the chicken we let the salmon get cold – and without prompting, the waitress took it away to reheat it for us, without any loss of flavor or moisture.

Blanchy Street represents modern dining at its best in the heart of downtown, a truly international dining experience in a trendy, modern and friendly setting. We simply could not fault our food, the venue or the service.

Address

74 Hai Ba Trung, D1

3823 8793

Lunch from 11.30am – 2pm

Dinner from 6pm – 10pm

Images by QUINN RYAN MATTINGLY

The Kebab Philosopher

One Frenchman on a mission to clean up the fat in these Turkish sandwiches… It’s a litle out of the way and, sure, the city is already speckled with dozens of carts around bearing names like Doner Kebab, Aladdin, Kebab Master and so on; but this one is different. It’s actually fresh and healthy. Imagine indulgence … Read more

His Love of Food: Oi’s La Villa experience

There’s a whole lot of love in Thierry Mounon’s story of bringing his unique style of French cuisine to Ho Chi Minh City.

Thierry Mounon’s La Villa in District 2 opened its doors on Valentine’s Day 2011. Less than six months later, with so many diners raving about their dining experience online, it took top spot on Trip Advisor’s rankings and has remained there ever since.

It’s not easy earning a number one ranking on Trip Advisor, and it’s stressful staying there, explains Thierry.

“First thing every morning I open my page on Trip Advisor and see how we’ve done.”

The secrets to winning the hearts and stomachs of Ho Chi Minh City’s expat community and a healthy share of the tourist dollar are authenticity, passion and training.

“You need to be proud of what you are doing. In a restaurant you cannot do the job without a lot of passion,” he tells Oi. It’s a pride he instills in his staff who he trains regularly so they stay abreast of the changing menu and maintain consistent standards of service.

“We train our team as we would train them in France.”

They’re tutored in gastronomy as well as service. Most of the staff have tasted a majority of the restaurant’s dishes, and last year Thierry took his restaurant manager to France to experience French cuisine in its birthplace.

Our Meal

La Villa is housed in a stunning white French villa that was originally built as a private house. It features tables outdoors dotted around a swimming pool, and a more formal dining room inside with high ceilings, an exhibition of German artworks (available for sale) and an imposing curved staircase leading to Thierry and Tina’s residence.

Tina, who recently gave birth to their first child, is his wife and manages front of house and marketing for the business.

The restaurant’s intimate space seats only 50 diners to ensure personalized service – so bookings are advised, especially on Friday and Saturday evenings. We found dining at La Villa was more of an experience than a meal, largely due to Thierry’s commitment to authenticity.

“I cannot forget my heritage,” says the chef, who hails from the south of France, a fact reflected in many of his dishes.

Adding to the experience is a continuous teaser of fresh warm breads proffered soon after being seated, expertly baked by Thierry’s godfather – a retired pastry chef. This is followed by a tasting plate of three delicious appetizers, our favorite being baby tomatoes dipped in caramel and served on a skewer – a sort of savory mini version of a toffee apple. It’s moorish with the soft juicy tomato exploding in your mouth when you crunch through the hard toffee shell.

La Villa offers several degustation menus that showcase Thierry’s southern expertise and range in price from VND730,000 – VND1.73 million. But we decided to choose our own starters and mains, all washed down with a bottle of 2007 Nova Roma Chateauneuf-du-Pape – which seemed like a bargain at about VND1.5 million.

Our favorite starter was a Caillette – a dish Thierry makes using his grandfather’s recipe. It’s a meatball comprising of pork meat, pork liver mixed with pork fat, thyme, rosemary, tomato and spinach and stuffed with goat’s cheese before being roasted. Caillette is a specialty in the south of France, and the Mounon family’s version is tender, tasty and smooth, an indulgence for pork lovers.

La Villa’s main course offer is broad, with a large range of fish and meat dishes to satisfy any dietary desires. The dishes we enjoyed have since been replaced by a new menu, but based on our experience, we’d highly recommend the roast Australian lamb tenderloin with thyme, rosemary stuffed tomato and snails ratatouille, or the Iberian Black pork lomo in sesame crust with broad bean puree, tarragon flavored juice and crispy pancetta.

Afterwards, there are plenty of sweet desserts to choose from, but you’d be mad to miss the cheese trolley. The staff here know their cheese and can recommend from a dizzying array of cheese blocks before slicing to choice; it’s a dose of theatre to round the night off.

Well almost round it off. Thierry’s team also serves a complimentary tasting plate of sweets – in our case a melt- in-the-mouth macaroon, together with a meringue and a soothing dose of homemade limoncello.

Starters here range from VND290,000 to VND490,000 for the seasonal pan fried scampi, mizuna salad and beluga malossol caviar cappuccino. Mains from VND410,000 to Canadian lobster for VND1.8 million if you’re really feeling adventurous with the credit card.

La Villa offers something very special for the romantic night out, a special occasion or for tourists with discretionary income – an escape from the chaos of downtown Ho Chi Minh City.

La Villa Rating:

5 Stars

La Villa is at 14 Ngo Quang Huy, D2, T: 3898 2082 / 090 812 8860 E: [email protected]

Visit La Villa’s website.

Open Monday to Saturday: Lunch from 11.45am to 3pm (last order 1.30pm). Dinner from 6.45pm to late (last order is 9.30pm)

 

FOOTNOTE: How Oi reviews restaurants… Oi reviews restaurants anonymously. If our reviewer likes it we return to interview the owner so we can tell their story. Our reviews are independent and our own and are not vetted or approved by the restaurant prior to publication. We pay for our meals. 

 

Images by QUINN RYAN MATTINGLY