Soothe your soul to the smooth sounds of live jazz in the bar. Cosy up at the restaurant counter and blissfully trip through the chef’s tasting menu. Or sip cocktails in the courtyard as the sun sets. The multifunctional Coco Saigon space caters to many moods with its bar, restaurant and courtyard-event space.
Đọc bài viết bằng tiếng Việt
Nam Khi Khoi Nghia winds all the way downtown from the outskirts of the airport, taking in the frenetic activity of Tan Binh, through leafy District 3, right through to the intersection with Vo Van Kiet as that street winds around the river toward District 5 and beyond. Coco Saigon, which you pass on the way, in the romantic tree-lined mid-section, is equally eclectic. Depending on your feeling, it can offer an intimate dinner, a perfectly balanced martini, or a private party for a special occasion. Or all three. So we checked in with four of the Coco Saigon team – Chef Vuong, Winner of Top Chef Vietnam 2019, whiskey aficionado and bar manager Duc, Huyen the sommelier, and operations manager Daniel, who keeps the diverse elements of Coco Saigon together.
Chef Vuong is the kind of hip, tattooed chef you’d expect to find at Coco Saigon. And he’s become a familiar face to lots of the guests having won Top Chef Vietnam in 2019. The prize was just one highlight of a 10 year career in the kitchen. All that experience has given Chef Vuong the knowledge to get creative with his dishes. “I think culinary creativity allows endless opportunities,” Chef Vuong muses. “I get mine from playing around with Vietnamese specialties, integrating French techniques, and searching for new ingredients – then playing around with their preparation, fermenting fruits or creating sorbets and ice cream from.”
For his menu, he took inspiration from the elements – air, earth, fire, harvest – and incorporated lots of fermentation and other techniques and created dishes like his Japanese tuna belly, with tuna which is dry-aged and combined with watermelon and wasabi sorbet. Or his Ben Luc Frogs Legs, where the frog thighs are slow cooked, sous vide, in Parisian herb butter so the meat is wonderfully tender and served with lemongrass and potatoes. “The goal is simple,” Chef Vuong smiles, “it’s to break boundaries, and defy expectations. My philosophy is to create a contemporary cuisine that blends the best local products with techniques and ingredients from around the world.”
Chef Vuong’s Tip: “To get the most out of our contemporary culinary experience, and because we have this remarkable open kitchen space, I recommend you sit at the counter where you can watch, and we can interact.”
Duc, Bar Manager
“I think we have more than three hundred bottles,” Duc says, when he notices us admiring the wall of whiskey bottles behind the bar at Coco Saigon. Besides that, the bartenders can whisk up supremely composed classics or their signature cocktails to order. And like a musicophile’s listening room, when the live band aren’t playing the jazz records waft from a vintage tube amplifier connected to a high-performance Macintosh turntable, and piped through high-end JLB speakers. In fact, every element of the bar at Coco Saigon, from the lighting to the decor, has the same aficionado’s attention to detail. “We really wanted to create a classic space reminiscent of legendary New York City jazz bars,” Duc explains from behind the bar. And they’ve achieved it.
“Of course people are the key ingredient that completes the space,” he adds looking round at the contented guests chatting over Martinis and glasses of Laphroaig. “Personality is important – not only the personalities coming through the door, but the team’s too. We like to strike up conversations to get to know guests and equipped with that knowledge we can lead them on a bespoke whiskey tasting journey or guide them through to the best choice of cocktail.”
Bar Manager Duc’s Tip: “For me, the bar is definitely the best place to be. And there, start off with a Daiquiri or Sidecar, for a sweet and sour taste that will help reenergize your soul after a hard day at work.”
Unlike Vuong and Duc, Huyen’s background is eclectic. Originally working in banking and finance, she embarked on the sommeliers journey around three years ago, and hasn’t looked back since. Coco Saigon’s petit but passionate sommelier has learned a lot along the way. “I guess I want to take others on the journey I’ve been through, to discover wines and to enjoy them as part of a fulfilling life well-lived!” she laughs. “I think it’s important to destigmatize wine too. The old image is stuffy and elitist, but I want to show that wine is accessible and fun. Everyone has their own taste and preferences and we want to celebrate that – after all, what you like can never be wrong.”
Currently, her preoccupation is with finding the perfect pairings of wine to match Chef Vuong’s dishes. “Right now I love Alsace Gewürztraminer wines…or a nice Grand Cru Classe with some of our seafood dishes, like the shrimp and foie gras with red wine reduction,” she enthuses. “It’s our way of inviting guests to discover new lands from the comfort of their seat.”
Sommelier Huyen’s Tip: “For first timers and beginners I recommend a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand’s Marlborough region, and then moving on to old world wines with more complex flavors.”
Daniel, Operations Manager
It’s a delicate balance: attentive customer service without being overbearing. And it’s a responsibility Daniel takes seriously. “We really need to understand the psychology of the customers,” he says thoughtfully, “and how to best communicate with them – then to judge how quickly to bring the dishes, how to pair them successfully with drinks.” But that’s what Coco Saigon does best, “serving dishes and drinks with meticulous attention to detail.”
“That means a careful choice of ingredients, presentation of the dishes, and even portion sizes,” he adds. “I’d describe us as modern, liberated and innovative…a lot like the people of Saigon,” he smiles. Not that Coco Saigon has dispensed with tradition. “It’s important to pay respects to the past, and preserve the best of it, while creating something, and exciting and new.”
He’s particularly proud of the way the dishes are paced. “From cool and sour, to open up the tastebuds, to rich and salty as the menu delves into diverse regional produce, to varied spices, as the chef explores different continents. Then we finish with some heartwarming sweetness, with our desserts. And then there’s the 300 plus whiskies for afterwards…” he laughs.
Operations Manager Daniel’s Tip: “When you come to Coco Saigon, ask for the kitchen tour. Then, you’ll be introduced to a mysterious room, which is really the heart of our culinary activities – the fermentation room. The soul of our food comes from this room.”