The streets heave. The clubs are packed. And Saigon scintillates more than ever. There’s always been a Japanese flavor to the town – binchotan smoke and neon-lit alleys – and Kohei Yamamoto and Tsusuhara Shozo are adding to it. A former masterchef heads east. There’s a windowless bunker for the nerds. There’s a country house in Thao Dien. And there’s more, in this very special collection of the best new places to eat, drink and have fun in Saigon this December.
Đọc bài viết bằng Tiếng Việt
First of all, thanks for reading. But you really should be out on the town sipping cocktails in a sunken lounge or shotting umeshu in Japan Town. Between them, Korokoro, Umenomoto, BAR SON, NERD and Olivia Dining cover just about every base – from candle lit fine fine dining, to fried chicken, to getting fried on balloons.
“It’s the name a chicken makes in Japanese!” Kohei Yamamoto tells us before demonstrating: “Korokoroooooooo!” It’s also the name of his new izakaya, Korokoro. “Honestly, I’ve been ruminating on the idea of opening an izakaya in Saigon for four years, and now it’s real,” he adds proudly.
He’s feeling the pressure. But it is, he says, the good kind of pressure of wanting to do things right. And to follow in the illustrious footsteps of some of his favorite izakayas in Japan. “Places like Hajime in Tokyo’s Asabujunan Ward where they don’t really have specials on the menu – every dish is done just right. Hajime was a secret place too. You couldn’t even find it online…”
At Korokoro, in tribute to places like Hajime, there’s “a few bombs on the menu.” He recommends a seat at the bar. “And order fried chicken – it’s mouthwatering – and beer and corn cream croquettes, then more beer, and then our mabo tofu with some rice to finish.”
Korokoro is off the map too, although it is, he discloses, not far from his beloved Saigon cocktail bar, Kohei’s – a go-to place for Martinis and more right opposite the Opera House. “Right,” Kohei confirms, “secret location, secret entrance, just follow the chicken sounds korokorooooooo!”
In Short: Kohei Yamamoto chickens out.
There’s a rebirth of the cool in Japan Town. And Tsusuhara Shozo is a big part of it. He opened Sushi Tiger, the hip standing sushi joint near the Le Thanh Ton entrance to the enclave, with Nikichi Nagatsuyu, in early 2022. And now, next door, comes Umenomoto, his ode to Japanese plum wine.
Umeshu is the preferred, affordable ready-to-drink of lots of revelers in the Japanese alleys of District 1. “We definitely noticed that,” Tsusuhara Shozo nods, “but there’s more than 1,000 kinds of umeshu in Japan – which people may not know about – so why not open a bar dedicated to the beverage as there’s so many great whiskey bars around here already?”
Enter Umenomoto. At the chic bar counter downstairs, or upstairs in private booths, Tsusuhara Shozo and team offer 50 kinds of umeshu. “But we’re building on that,” he adds, “so expect around 100 kinds in the next few months.”
Besides Sushi Tiger, Tsusuhara Shoza is also the hyper-creative head of Fume Japanese Fusion Restaurant a couple of blocks over in the Refinery Courtyard. So, at Umenomoto Saigon, he’ll be serving small plates of perfectly presented Japanese cuisine. Soon, no doubt, to be standing room only like their standing sushi spot next door.
Location: 15B/8 Le Thanh Ton, District 1
In Short: The umeshu is on the other foot.
Thao Dien has everything…and now that includes country house-style dining. “I was lucky to work in places like the three-Michelin Waterside Inn in England, and The Lake House in Daylesford, Australia,” chef and owner of Olivia Dining, David Green, tells us. Both of those places had a country house vibe, he explains. “And I wanted to recreate that here and so Olivia Dining is relaxed and convivial, but surrounded by the chaos of Saigon.”
If that doesn’t feel homely enough already, Olivia is named after David’s newly born daughter. But don’t let all that deceive you – behind the laid back charm is a fiercely creative and technique-driven kitchen “that combines theater and dedication.”
“Take a table overlooking our indoor garden which is beautifully lit at night,” David recommends. “And order the tasting menu, a journey of small tastes, each one celebrating a premium ingredient, with a wine to match from our sommelier.” Adding to the air of refinement is the kitchen and the activity of the chefs you can watch through the large window. “We prepare everything in-house – breads and butchery, and other baked goods.”
Location: 31A Le Van Mien, Thao Dien, District 2
In Short: Country house music all night long.
Shake off the tropical malady at the tropical lounge BAR SON. Only a few hundred meters from the zoo and botanical gardens, BAR SON has breathed it all in. And now it’s opened as a real downtown oasis replete with extinct-animal wallpaper, a sunken lounge, and a shiny DJ booth that looks down on it all like the bridge of a boat bobbing down the Mekong.
“It’s our version of vibe dining,” Chester, BAR SON’s bar manager, told us a few weeks ago. That means you can sip on sophisticated cocktails or tuck into a menu of sumptuous bites as the music amps up after dark. “Right, BAR SON really comes alive after dark.”
Location: 3C Ton Duc Thang Street, District 1
In Short: Vibe dining has left the dock.
The comeback is the reason God invented the middle finger. And rumors of Kin Dee’s demise were premature. The beloved Thai – Gastropub disappeared from sight around the time of the pandemic. But now, thankfully, it’s resurrected at 39A Co Bac. And there’s even a secret bar coming soon on the top floor.
In the main space, expect the same hip gray-walled space accented with graffiti, neon signage and punchy Thai dishes and drinks. “The idea has always been to create a mix of Japanese izakaya and Vietnamese nhau joint, and drop them into the Thai capital of Bangkok,” founder Nam Khuat explains, “so there’s lots of grilled food and pan-Asian drinks, with everything from bia hơi and Vietnamese rice liquor, to umeshu, sake, soju and makgeolli.”
Location: 39A Co Bac, District 1
In Short: A Thai reincarnation.
Us nerds rule the world. And now we have our own clubhouse.
Appropriately, for introverts, NERD is a windowless bunker in the increasingly hip BLOQ. Inside discover a techno den rekindling the golden age of warehouse raves.
Location: 19 Tran Ngoc Dien, Thao Dien, District 2
In Short: The BLOQ party.