You might have seen Mark Molnar at Qui – Cuisine Mixology, or the Cantonese restaurant Bao Bei. VISE Hospitality run both venues and the club, Envy. And Mark is their Executive chef. Here he presents his guide to Saigon.
Miami. Saigon. Two cities geographically and culturally worlds apart. Hungarian-born Mark Molnar has been a chef in both. “And at Zuma in London, and the Pavillon Ledoyen in Paris, and El Bulli…” he remembers.
Mark left Saigon briefly after his first stint here to set up Novikov in Miami – a complex operation serving both Chinese and Japanese cuisine. But the city drew him back. Plus, there was the chance to help the growing VISE Hospitality brand.
“Who am I? I’m executive chef of VISE Hospitality, martial artist, earth lover, and chess player,” Mark smiles. And this is the latest in our guest concierge series which introduces the places locals prefer. So, this is Saigon in Mark Molnar’s own words.
Can you help us understand the city in a few words?
I don’t think words can do justice to Saigon’s indescribable energy and unique cuisine…
Where should we go to feel good?
If you want to try a spa, then it has to be the Korean-owned Golden Lotus Healing Spa Land in District 7. I’d describe it as spa meets entertainment! Aside from the sauna, steam room, and different hot and cold baths, there are several unique rooms such as the one with Himalayan salt. You can spend the whole day there.
If you prefer comfort food, I have to suggest our Cantonese restaurant Bao Bei. The decor there evokes neon-lit Hong Kong in the late 1980s. Order mapo tofu and some dim sum. I promise your heart will be warmed and your soul and mood uplifted.
Where do we go for street food?
Anywhere and everywhere. Depending on the time of day, the same street will offer different kinds of food – xôi mặn in the mornings, bánh tráng nướng as night falls.
One of my latest discoveries is Phở Miến Gà Kỳ Đồng (14/5 Bis Ky Dong). It’s like a pho factory dispensing steaming salty bowls of noodles from sunrise till very late. It featured on the recent Netflix street food episode about Saigon. And deservedly so.
For a beginner’s guide, I recommend the book Saigon Street Food. Of course, places change and move, so it’s not completely reliable, but it’s an excellent guide to the different types of dishes you can find here.
Where should we go for lunch or brunch?
Although people perceive Qui as a party place, we do great Asian- and Vietnamese-style lunches. Order a few dishes to share with a colleague or friend. Or try Com Moc in Thao Dien for their excellent Hanoi cuisine and ambiance.
Which district should I hang out in?
I’m choosing District 2’s Thao Dien. You can find everything there: authentic Hanoi cuisine at Bún Chả Cực Ngon, craft beer at BiaCraft or the Heart of Darkness’ District 2 taproom, American-style BBQ at Quan Ut Ut, bakeries like Saint Honore, street food along Quoc Huong, French fine dining at La Villa and L’Escale by Thierry Drapeau, and tranquil riverside restaurants like The Deck. Then there are spas like Spa La Sen, internationally-oriented supermarkets like the huge new Annam Gourmet. Of course, there are lots of expats too…
Where should I go to meet new people?
I feel that more and more events are starting up to suit every kind of person and interest. Find your group on Facebook – whether it’s wine lovers, foodies, or if you just want to ask questions about negotiating the city.
Where can I drink the best coffee?
Bosgaurus Coffee. This coffee shop is hidden beneath the high-rise development of Saigon Pearl. However, it’s remarkably peaceful when you’re sitting outside looking across to the Saigon river – there’s no traffic here, just the occasional put-put of passing motorbikes. Importantly, these guys are very careful about the quality of their coffee at every stage – from sourcing to brewing.
Where should I go on a Friday night?
I recommend Broma. It’s still a favourite. Go for a beer and enjoy live performances or DJs in the breezy open-air – maybe after a walk down Nguyen Hue. And you can always swap downstairs to Below Whisky Bar and order a rare scotch while enjoying some intimate jazz.
And I have to add that last year Qui – Cuisine Mixology deservedly picked up some awards like Vietcetera’s people’s choice award for best bar. I think that’s because it’s a unique destination – characterful bartenders, creative cocktails, and of course great food. It’s another good option.
What should I take home as a gift?
Nước mắm from Phu Quoc. Some fish sauce brands like Red Boat are sustainably sourced and some even have French AOC quality designation. They’re the best fish sauces on earth.
Which tourist destination is worth my time?
Visit Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon. It’s undergoing some construction at the moment, so take a look then seek out some of the great eating and drinking options nearby – Ivoire for French-style cakes and coffee, Au Parc for Mediterranean salads and smoothies with views of the park or Propaganda for Vietnamese food right next door.
Finally, which place can be our little secret?
My Hu Tieu place in Phu Nhuan – it’s at 1 Hồ Biểu Chánh. There a bún mọc place on Le Van Sy Street too. But promise not to tell anyone, okay?