We told you. Vietnam is rising. And that is especially true in the bar and restaurant scene. With so many new openings (and the odd sad closure here and there) we rounded up some of our favorites approved by The Dot Magazine.
It’s meaningful. Vietnam’s recognition on the Asia 50 list (now expanded to 100 with other local entries in the Essence of Asia category, like Ngoc Suong and Pizza 4P’s) means every young aspiring chef can see glory down the road. Having two places, T.U.N.G Dining and Anan Restaurant, in the Asia list also reflects Vietnam’s evolving and diversifying drinking and dining industry. There are visual dining experiences, cool neighborhood eateries, cocktail bars claiming cocktail culture for Vietnam and more. There’s even a hyper-hip residency by chef Bao La at Que Kareem that we couldn’t fit into the list. Here we go…
Å by TUNG
Icebergs stick out from the wall that look like oversized diamonds, an oval skylight opens up to the Northern Lights and a dangerous-looking stalactite dangles above the stairs. This is the “constantly innovative and occasionally rebellious” Å by TUNG. We’ve been waiting for Hoang Tung and team to open a spot in Saigon ever since we decided TUNG Dining Hanoi was Vietnam’s most exciting restaurant back in October, 2019. And here it is.
If there was one complaint about TUNG Dining Hanoi, which recently received #98 in Asia’s expanded best restaurant list, it’s that its interior felt a little too homely at times; fairy lights and hokey Scandinavian wooden dolls. So they’ve kept the trademarks like the walk-through kitchen, multi-course menu, juice and beer pairings, and created a Scandinavian-themed dining room. We’re sure the Northern Lights flickered brightly towards the end of the evening, but we chose wine not juice. The food is as much of a trip. The 20-course menu elusively lists each dish by its two primary ingredients, so each course, once it’s set down, is a surprise. So we’ll respectfully leave the descriptions of what is already Saigon’s most exciting, eccentric and ambitious dining experience at that. Just remember to take loved ones and not a Tinder date. The courses spread out over a couple of hours, time best spent with your BFFs or baby boys and girls.
In Short: Endless ambition from this Asia best team.
Location: 31-33 Dang Dung, District 1
The Five Dining Experience At Kiba
There’s a story…something about five precious stones. But a few minutes in to this AC3 project presented at Kiba we’re already too mesmerized by the visuals to care. A fiery dragon winds its way around the table skirting dinner plates and glassware. A granite voice booms in the background (available in Vietnamese or English). And the food hasn’t even arrived yet. When it does the dazzling projections settle into a complimentary theme: swaying palm trees frame the crunchy salad; the table flushes red with roses for the Wagyu beef course.
Kiba Saigon have been cooking up good things for over a year in this emerging end of District 1 where bike mechanics and industrial supply stores rub shoulders with casual fine dining restaurants like Quince, hidden event spaces like Hoa Tay and artsy bars like 208E. Now they’ve lent their ten-seat private dining room to this, The Five Dining Experience. “It’s a cinematic journey for your palette,” Jose from AC3 Studio (who created this visual extravaganza) smiles as the credits roll down the table. We noticed.
In Short: Swirling, sensational visuals combine with Kiba’s consistently flavorsome cuisine.
Location: 31 Pho Duc Chinh, District 1
Upon being shown the fourth or was it fifth event space in the garden of this perfectly appointed District 2 villa we’re a bit dazed. In one room there’s counter seating around an open kitchen, which is why we’re here.
Thao Na from esteemed but off-the-radar eatery Bistro Atelier Des Reves comes over once or twice a month to remind everyone how good a five-course French tasting menu can be while still serving up what you’d expect – oysters, fois gras, Wagyu beef. Then there are rooms for meetings and functions, a neon lit dining room straight out of Alice and Wonderland with Salvador Dalí prints on the walls, and, Crystal, who co-owns the place with her dad, reminds us pointing upstairs, “there’s a dance studio there too.”
We take the eight-seat private room near the entrance, order tamarind umami cocktails, take in the decor straight out of a Ralph Lauren shoot (it was created by one of Ralph Lauren’s former design team), and wait for the Thao Na to leave her captive audience over in the open kitchen to come over and serve us our first course.
In Short: Shoot location. Chef’s table. Art gallery. Check, check, check.
Location: 12 Street 12, District 2
Boo SG are keeping it simple. Two options. “Classic or fancy?” we’re asked from behind the bar as remote-controlled curtains roll back to reveal shelves of spirits. Outside Saigon’s last District 1 wet market is winding down as The D a few doors down and Anan Restaurant slightly further along, like Boo, flip the open sign.
While Anan and its sister restaurants in the same building, Pot Au Pho and Nhau Nhau, are brighly lit, and The D has its logo projected on the street outside, Boo SG is more understated. You enter through Nem Nuong Nha Trang restaurant. There’s a hostess bar on the top floor as we discover when a girl at the entrance tries to lead us up past Boo. She’s disappointed when we turn in to this new cocktail bar. But we’re not. Hushed lighting, counter seating with a few tables dotted around, and impeccable service. We go classic this time, with a Song Cai gin and tonic but make plans to return for the ‘fancy’ menu.
In Short: Simple – classic or fancy. Either way a great new hidden bar.
Location: 119 Ton That Dam, District 1
It’s no relation, but we love the name. We love the drinks too. Dot Bar make drinks inspired by childhood flavors, like the Saigon Childhood (obviously). Bartender Bao slides over a chilli salt rimmed glass. Inside is sous vide tequila with kafir lime, chili, mezcal, mango, a squeeze of lime and a hint of vinegar. We skip the other enticing menu options and order another.
Behind us a disco ball whirs round on the ceiling like a scene from a Nicolas Winding Refn movie. A couple hold hands on the balcony that looks down onto this gently buzzing street between the Dong Khoi and Nguyen Hue. And we’re as intoxicated by the place as we are by the drinks. “The name? We’re just a tiny dot in this big universe,” co-owner Le Ngoc Minh muses, “but we’re definitely a happy dot…” We’re feeling happy now too. One more for the road.
In Short: A flood of childhood flavors in a hip and happy central location.
Location: 12-14 Nguyen Thiep, District 1
The Tailor Bar
We admit it. We slept on The Tailor Bar. Opened at the end of November, within walking distance of our first Wink hotel, The Tailor Bar has gradually crept into our consciousness through word-of-mouth. We’re glad it did.
Bartender Ha, formerly of Cocktail Merchants, serves us a punchy cocktail in an impossibly elegant glass. Then he pulls out a pack of cards. If we win, we get the drink free. “This is how we do happy hour here,” he nods as the game begins.
In Short: As well-cut as a Saville Row suit.
Location: 21 Phan Ke Binh, District 1
Hervé Dining Room
Asia’s Top 50 have their eyes on Vietnam. And there’s occasional talk of the Michelin Guide’s arrival. But for now, we have to content ourselves with chefs coming here for a collaboration (on pause since the pandemic) or Michelin-starred chefs like Hervé Rodriguez opening their own spots like Hervé Dining Room. Hervé’s Masa in Paris earned a one star for his ballsy confidence in letting the daily delivery of fresh produce dictate his evening’s ‘discovery’ menu.
Here in a sleepy part of Thao Dien (an increasingly rare thing) expect French organic artichokes, sweetbreads, Danang clams…whatever the producers in this part of the world throw at Hervé.
In Short: A Michelin pedigree Thao Dien hideaway.
Location: 204 Nguyen Van Huong, Thao Dien, District 2
Stir – Modern Classic Cocktail
Stir is claiming cocktail culture for Vietnam. The menu is Vietnamese first. The venue opulent speakeasy chic. The location, in the Mayhem courtyard, central but completely hidden. And the team is all Vietnamese talent. Thep Dinh and Lam Duc Anh met often during guest shifts and competition entries. So they decided to team up. And what a team.
Here they’ve also surrounded themselves with even younger bartenders with great promise like Teisseire Syrup Champ, Truyen “The Ant”.
But back to the menu. There’s the classics (as it says in the bar’s name) old fashioneds and negronis, then things get interesting when you flip the page of the menu to the signatures. The Nấm & Hoa is a twisted, truffle-infused dry martini, the Nước Mía Highball takes the roadside refueling beverage and turns it into a balanced rum-based highball, and the Bánh đa Colada mixes local rice wine, coconut, pineapple and a special homemade baby-corn cordial with Zacapa Ambar 12. Brilliant.
In Short: A dream team claiming cocktail culture for Vietnam.
Location: 1st Floor, 136 Le Thanh Ton, District 1
XMXL – Xiao Ma Xiao La
Where to get that mouth-numbing kick of Sichuan spice in this wonderful city? You can’t. Until now. Here, to spice up our lives, is XMXL – Xiao Ma Xiao La. Although Sichuan food has a fearsome reputation, in truth its complex layers of spice are less threatening that they sound and that delirious numbed feeling is wildly addictive. Well done XMXL. Not just for broadening our eating options but for doing it in this cool location below Glow that was formerly Hyde.
Even more interestingly, the head chef here is Spanish, so expect his cuisine to come with a European edge.
In short: XMXL – Xiao Ma Xiao La is fire.
Location: 93 Nguyen Du, District 1
Thao Dien keeps astounding with its development, especially its evolution into a funky, tropical ‘hood (as well as a magnet for new parents and dog owners). That’s thanks to hip new joints like the cocktail bar Con Voi and B Side cafe next door. Now Nage has blown us away too. It’s hard making things look this easy. Seafood with an Asian persuasion, the menu is all killer and no filler – the cobia ceviche is a tangy joy, the uni pate with brioche, chilli jam and pickles lip-smackingly moreish, and the raw tiger prawns with tomato sauce succulent and spicy. Another place putting the ‘oo’ in this neighborhood.
In Short: A new and exciting neighbourhood diner.
Location: 2A Le Van Mien, Thao Dien, District 2
Photos are courtesy of the venues