Could Saigon get any more decadent? Just in case, there’s a new Italian restaurant that converts into a disco, there’s a cultured establishment serving crocodiles, and there’s lots more in this edition of the hottest new places in Saigon right now.
Đọc bài viết bằng Tiếng Việt
We’ve been waiting for this. Both Bambino and Akuna have been much hyped – and for good reasons. Chef Sam Aisbett built a formidable reputation at Whitegrass, Singapore. And now, at Akuna, he looks set to do the same. And appropriately titled Bambino, the first baby from The Leftovers Group, has soft opened slung with drapes and soundtracked by Italo-disco. We’ve been waiting for Miên Sài Gòn for some time too, after the dazzling success of Ủ Bar upstairs. And beyond those, there’s an egalitarian burger joint, a pizza master’s new parlor and lots more.
The water on the Saigon river 9 floors below twinkles as motorbikes flow silently across the Thu Thiem bridge like fireflies. Up here, above the kitchen, shards of crystal glass flow around the horseshoe-shaped sunken space, as, almost as quietly as the action outside, Sam Aisbett as his team create dishes that are so dizzyingly decorative, it’s a genuine surprise that they taste so good too.
Although Sam’s been digging around local produce in the run-up to opening Akuna, the menu still has lots of the modern-Australian trappings that brought Sam a MICHELIN star in Singapore, at Whitegrass, and a place in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list in 2018.
There’s a crocodile dish, with saltwater crocodile from Hoa Ca Farm, that bathes sleepily, like a crocodile in the shallows beside a riverbank, in a roasted crocodile and seaweed sauce. And the beef dish uses David Blackmore’s full-blood Australian Wagyu beef. It’s all served with the option of an all-Australian wines pairing, that leans towards lo-fi wines, with a Hewitson ‘Gun Metal’ Riesling, The Snow Line Three Pinots Rosé, and a Jumping Juice pinot noir.
By 2018, Sam recalled becoming a bit jaded at Whitegrass, and so he quit less than three years after opening. With dishes this brilliant, let’s hope he sticks around for a lot longer this time.
What: Magnificent modern-Australian cuisine gets a Vietnamese twist.
Where: Level 9, Le Meridien Saigon, 3C Ton Duc Thang, District 1
Following that is another hotly anticipated opening – Bambino. The Leftovers Group – the people behind it – led by Thomas and Ryan, gathered in 2022. “We decided to seek out international talent so they can help polish and empower local talent,” Thomas tells us. And Bambino, their first project is “an Italian-style supperclub” that shows off the Leftovers desire to combine contemporary design, with delicious food, Chef Josh Fry’s teetering seafood towers and Bombe Alaskas, drinks, inspired by Harry’s Bar in Venice, and music that leans towards the fabulous Italo-disco of another inspiration, Daniele Baldelli.
The room is wrapped in cinematic drapes, part Christo installation, part house-warming party. The decorations come courtesy of Maison, one of the country’s most up-and-coming fashion distributors, “and who were gracious enough to support the Fabric Room concept.”
“We pictured it like the Italian ‘mattamonio’ that conceals the bride from the groom before she walks down the aisle,” Thomas tells us. “But the drapes come off on 20th August to reveal the real Bambino.”
They’re doing it all in the old building at 29-31 Ton That Thiep, that you may recall was the timeless Temple Club. “Old meets new here,” Thomas adds, “to create a unique ambiance. We think this will be unlike anything you have experienced before.”
And, as the night wears on, the volume increases and the lights flicker to life and Bambino transitions from a party for the mouth to a party for the ears.
What: A sultrily decorated celebration for all the senses.
Where: 29-31 Ton That Thiep, District 1
Miên Sài Gòn
Upstairs, Ủ Bar have been fermenting their Vietnamese twists on classic cocktails, served with elevated light, local cuisine for less than a year. For much of that, we’ve been wondering what wonders the team has in store for downstairs.
Finally, the big reveal: Miên Sài Gòn is now open. It’s a chic, single-room space with an open kitchen at the far end and a few counter seats, serving Asian cuisine made with French techniques. So, there’s mini crispy ‘bánh pía,’ thiên lý flower tempura, and quail egg with smoked cream…and we’re still only on the amuse bouche. The menu culminates in ‘La Vong-style’ fish, perfectly grilled quail, and juicy chargrilled Wagyu beef.
Alongside it is a French-focussed wine pairing that skips from a French Brut Rosé, to an Argentinian chardonnay, and back to France for blended Marrenon-Ventoux Classique and a Cotes Du Rhone Grenache-Syrah.
What: A chic, single-room restaurant with an open kitchen (and Ủ Bar upstairs).
Where: 50A Dang Dung, Tan Dinh, District 1
MaSa Fine Tapas & Wine Saigon
Hervé Rodriguez arrived with a formidable reputation. His Paris restaurant, MASA, got a MICHELIN Star back in 2013 thanks to his commitment to source the finest products available daily and bring them to the table. In Vietnam, he opened Hervé Dining Room, which this year also got MICHELIN recognition, on the organization’s first selected list. And now, he’s opened MaSa Fine Tapas & Wine Saigon in the same villa as a more accessible venture focused on small plates of his cuisine and wines.
The name, he says, comes from his own nickname. “Manipulator of savors (the French word for flavors),” he explains, or ‘Masa.’
At this MaSa, guests can expect “exquisite tapas, tantalizing mains, and delightful desserts.” And, of course, lots of wine.
What: Hervé Rodriguez’s “exquisite tapas, tantalizing mains, and delightful desserts.”
Where: 204/20 Nguyen Van Huong, Thao Dien, District 2
Smash Burger Saigon
Delicious, juicy beef burgers. So accessible! So egalitarian! “Exactly!” the Smash Burger Saigon team tells us. “We want to bring burgers to all – from Grab drivers to returning professors!”
Yesterday was a good example of that spirit coming to life. “A construction worker walked into our shop. He told us he wanted to try this burger, because he recognized the classic dishes and wanted to try it out!”
Impressing local consumers means tailoring the taste a bit. So, alongside the Korean Chicken Burger and the Classic Smash Burger, there’s a Cha Ca La Vong burger and a Ốc Burger, made from snails, inspired by local nhậu culture. “We’re aware that mam tom and nuoc mam are the fuels that power the country!” they add. “So you better believe
“Mam tom and Nuoc mam are the fuels Vietnam’s engine is running on. Therefore, you can count on this in one of the burgers.”
Still, they’re especially proud of the smash. “It’s made using a fresh mix of cuts of fresh ground beef: chuck, rib and shoulder for optimal flavors and texture. The meat is smashed onto the cast iron flattop, served straight up on a bun with a lick of ketchup, a drop of yellow mustard and a slice of locally made pickle.”
What: A smashing time guaranteed!
Where: 127 Quoc Huong, Thao Dien, District 2
Xào Xạc Bar
The inexorable rise of Thao Dien means that there’s now a number of drinking establishments, like Xào Xạc. And, happily, this one is led by one of the city’s best bartending talents, Tam.
The airy garden space was an attraction for Tam and the team. “We discovered the space in an alley in Thao Dien, and it felt so peaceful – the perfect hangout spot, where you could come with your loved ones and escape the world and its tribulations,” the Xào Xạc Bar team say.
And the team has really breathed in the healing garden energy, and infused the menu with it. So, beyond the classics, there are lots of herbal ingredients and other fresh flavors in their Xào Xạc Bar signatures. “Like our rum cocktail called Hiên,” they tell us, “with its cool, fragrant notes of tangerine and lemongrass, and a hint of rosemary, that’s topped with a layer of matcha foam that’s as dreamy as our destination.”
What: A dreamy new place to drink in Thao Dien.
Where: 39/5 Street number 59, Thao Dien, District 2
Margheri Gourmet Pizza & Eatery
The debate about the best pizza in Saigon goes on and on. But Ciro Sorrentino plans to end it. He really does know his pizzas. So, much so, in fact, that he’s even taught pizza-making as a subject at the Pizza News School.
He started early. “I think I was only 13 years old when I started making pizzas!” he laughs. “But I still love it.” He’s picked up lots of acclaim along the way: his pizza was named as one of the 50 Top Pizzas in Italy and he featured on the TV show Pizza Challenge.
Added to that, before opening Margheri Gourmet Pizza & Eatery, he was chef at The Long Bar – Times Square. “In between that and opening Margheri Gourmet Pizza & Eatery in District 7 me and my wife opened a pizzeria back in Italy,” Ciro Sorrentino tells us.
We’re glad he’s back with his authentic, gourmet ingredient-driven pizzas. “We import the finest products from Italy weekly,” Ciro smiles proudly, “and we make fresh pasta daily.” But the standout is probably the pizza dough. “We use sourdough as our 48-hour proofing dough, we aim for a high hydration of around 75%, and use a mixture of different Italian flours to give our guests some unique flavors, colors and aromas to experience.”
What: Gourmet pizzas from a certified pizza master.
Where: 23 HUong Phuoc 4, Tan Phong, District 7.
To say Orb Bistro is homely is an understatement. That’s because Orb Bistro has opened in a house in District 2, replete with brick walls, a tiled awning and a large yard out front. All this was Le Duc Huy’s idea. The chef fell in love with F&B and decided to open a small barbecue truck on the sidewalk. And, 12 branches and 1 brick and mortar restaurant later, called Orb Grill, he’s opened Orb Bistro.
And Huy’s secret weapon? His stainless steel grills. “We cook our tomahawk steak on the steel-ball grill,” Huy says. The method, he assures is, helps the steak to retain its juiciness. And, he recommends guests should enjoy it in Orb Bistro’s tranquil garden space.
What: Steel-ball grills and tomahawk steaks in the garden.
Where: 3B Le Quy Don, Ward 14, Phu Nhuan District.
Gastropubs have been popping: those rowdy, drunken places where drinking games abound and where the beverages are affordable, the food snacky, and the energy uplifting.
MM Gastropub — the initials stand for Midnight Market – have taken the concept, and added a gourmet twist to the cuisine. “For the food, we’ve taken inspiration from Asian street food culture,” the MM Gastropub team tells us. There’s Spicy Gastro Beef, enlivened with Thai chilis, and their Chicken Nori with Lá É Soup, or, if you’re rolling through with a crew, bountiful sharing platters of Smoked Duck Breast With Fruit Salad, Crunchy Onion Rings and Grilled USA Beef Striploin With Red Wine Sauce.
But, let’s be honest, you’ll mostly be coming to dance and get drunk. “To help you with that,” the team smile innocently, “there’s our all-you-can-drink Nhậu package at VND 289K from 5:30-8:00pm daily!”
What: A downtown gourmet gastropub!
Where: Basement, 12 Phan Ke Binh, District 1.