The brand-new-retro Bambino is an Italo disco-inspired Italian restaurant in Saigon with an imperceptible dusk till dark transformation into a club.
Đọc bài viết bằng Tiếng Việt
Lines of LED lights set in the ceiling glow then dart across the dining room. A DJ in the open booth at the head of the room sways to the music. And through the tinted-glass cube that separates the dining room and the kitchen, chefs Josh Fry and Jun Macho set down mismatched plates of food on the pass.
Bambino: An Italo Disco-Inspired Italian Restaurant
There’s pea-green Gnoccheti Sardi stacked with chunks of flower crab, Wild Mushroom Risotto with over-sized truffle shavings, Lobster Ravioli in a rich bisque sauce dotted with caviar, tottering seafood towers and sharing plates overflowing with Roast Suckling Pig Porchetta – kitschy-cool Italian dishes twisted with a canny sense of the quirks of Vietnamese consumers.
Then the lights slowly dim. The music amps up. And raised glasses of Dom Perignon turn into bottles of Don Julio on the table.
This is the brand-new-meets-retro Bambino, an Italo disco-inspired Italian restaurant with an imperceptible dusk till dark transformation into a club.
It’s the first project from The Leftovers, the wryly named group of former colleagues – led by Ryan, the CEO, and Thomas, the F&B Director – that banded together to flip a middle finger at the past and propel Saigon’s dining scene forward. “We’re starting with this, our Italian-style supper club concept,” Thomas explains.
Snippets Of The Bambino Concept
It all seems effortless. But mostly, Bambino’s components fell into place by chance. For example, the team happened across the venue – the 130-year-old heritage building that used to house the Temple Club, a refined Indochine-chic fine dining space – when it hosted a pop-up Gucci event. For Thomas, it felt a bit like the Melbourne he’d grown up in, with its air of old-school Italian-European energy. “And Singapore with its shophouses some of that London grandeur too,” Thomas says.
A local alliance with the upstart online fashion retailers Maison had them unexpectedly throwing enigmatic drapes across the space, turning it into a ‘Fabric Room’ while simultaneously papering over the cracks in the pre-opening construction and giving Bambino a big reveal a month later, “introducing guests to snippets of the Bambino concept without ruining the first impressions.”
Filling The Void
Even those mismatched plates were a spontaneous decision. “We were choosing between plates and we said why not use them all,” Thomas smiles. So, a filigree pattern dances round the edge of some plates and the porchetta comes on a regal silver tray.
The Leftovers are a mismatched group of bar and restaurant experts too, with Ryan and Thomas gathering more brilliant F&B dropouts along the way. It all adds to Bambino’s up-and-at-’em underdog attitude.
It’s the eccentric kind of international community Ton That Thiep Street is used to. The former Rue De l’Église, named after Saigon’s first Roman Catholic Cathedral on modern day Nguyen Hue, saw an influx of Tamils from the French-Indian Pondicherry – hence the still-standing Sri Thendayutthapani Temple across the street from Bambino.
There, since August, they’ve adeptly navigated the high-wire act of running a restaurant people want to party in and a louche kind of lounge people actually want to eat in.
And it’s helping to fill what Thomas calls “nostalgic voids” – his memories of experiences and places past that don’t exist here yet, unless he helps create them.
A Mix Of Old And New
Despite the good fortune of things falling into place, Bambino is also propelled by some of the brightest F&B brains, lots of them from Melbourne. Thomas’ long-time mentor, Manu Potoi, was ever-supportive. And the interior was imagined by Chris Wright and Georgina Prittie of Looks Generous, creators of hip, narrative-led hospitality spaces.
Together they pictured Bambino like Harry’s Bar in Venice – a place where good service and a contagious feeling of freedom drew the likes of Katherine Hepburn, Gary Cooper and Truman Capote. As the party gently amps up at Bambino it feels like all of Saigon’s glitterati have descended on the space too.
Bar Liberty’s Casey Wall pitched in with advice on the menu. And Hayden Lambert, from the Melbourne bar Above Board, recognized by the World’s 50 Best for its old-fashioned hospitality and classic cocktails helped with the drinks program – Bambino’s bar manager, Aden Atago came from there too.
So, the cocktail list is like Bambinos cosmopolitan clientele where Italian-accented classic cocktails – Sbagliatos and Bonzonis, Spicy Margaritas and Martinis – rub shoulders with sassy twisted signatures like C-Cups and Ong Buts, Xa Xi Ys and Cuginis.
“We liked the mix of old and new,” Thomas says. “It gives Bambino a unique ambience, unlike anything Saigon has seen before.”
The Drapes Are Off
It’s a kind of role reversal for Thomas, whose parents ran the 300-seat Vietnamese restaurant Tho Tho in Melbourne, “growing up with the old guard of restaurants in the ‘90s.”
“I spent my formative years helping to localize Vietnamese food for Australians. But then, for my Vietnamese parents living in Australia, I had to localize Australian things for them too,” he shrugs. “Now, I’m turning the city on to Italian cuisine. I guess it’s just my journey,” Thomas shrugs finally, looking around the Bambino dining room where the drapes are officially off.