Although it’s been a troubled year, lockdown’s legacy here is an outpouring of creative ideas. Collaborations, new openings, events, Saigon’s got everything. For every shuttered shopfront is a new bar or expanding brand. Blanche Bar + Dessert slid in above a Ministop, Madam Kew finally opened after a year or more of anticipation…
Đọc bài viết bằng tiếng Việt
Keeping track of it all has been a challenge. Somehow, we’ve managed to limit this list of the best new openings to nine. Still, there’s this nagging feeling we missed a lot out. Let’s call it a snapshot, not a comprehensive collection.
It’s nice to look back twelve months, and see almost all of our selections from 2019 have survived, and many of them have thrived and become our regular haunts – places like Kiba Saigon, The Monkey Gallery, and Esta Eatery. We think the places we’re choosing this time will become favourites too.
Blanche Bar + Dessert
If you believe that a true speakeasy should be hard to find, Blanche Bar + Dessert is the place for you. That’s because it’s above a Ministop and accessed via an elevator beside the milk refrigerator. Blanche Bar + Dessert is an impressive addition to Saigon’s bar scene – there’s floor-to-ceiling windows that look across to Vincombank Tower and down along Mac Thi Buoi and supreme service from the bar team behind the test-kitchen style counter.
The drinks they make fit the kitchen vibe with lots of clever plays on sweet and savoury. And they introduce each one, like their Slave to Nicotine that contains whiskey with sous vide pandan, fermented apricot, absinthe and Angostura bitters, and lots of off-menu concoctions, with infectious enthusiasm. Despite the hidden location, it’s already featured in a music video by our friend Tao. And every night Blanche already buzzes with exited chatter of cocktail connoisseurs, so book before heading over. “Contemporary style, dark interiors, artisanal craft cocktails and gourmet bites, live sessions, listening parties and art exhibitions…” owner Cao Anh nods approvingly of his new spot.
Why: Brilliant, bespoke, and hidden in plain sight.
Where: 16 Mac Thi Buoi, District 1
Long-awaited Madam Kew, designed by The Lab Saigon, successfully fills the space above award-winning Quince. There’s no conceptual connection with the modern European restaurant run by Julien Perraudin downstairs – the eponymous Madam Kew was a spy who arrived on our shores from Shanghai. So the space features lots of Chinoiserie touches Kew would have approved of.
“Madam Kew is an immersive opium-den-turned-bar,” co-owner Fabian Salvi elaborates, “with crafted cocktails and collectables.” Adding to the allure is Madam Kew’s regular live music and DJs. We wonder what Fabian orders. “Our Kew 37,” he smiles showing us the cocktail, “light, bubbly, sweet and sour, it’s created on a base of lemongrass-infused gin and cognac. Then our bar tzar Ivan Shenevskly adds passion fruit syrup and lime juice, and a dash of sparkling wine on top. So easy to drink…”
Why: Dinner at Quince then upstairs to Madam Kew is the perfect one-two.
Where: 37bis Ky Con, District 1
Ministry of Men
Dutch-owned House of Barbaard has been turning out carefully coiffured gentlemen from their Nguyen Thi Minh Khai location for a few years now. With a clothing line launched, and shelves of merch and hair products, Tom and Guido decided the next phase is to revamp their downstairs bar. Leading the upgrade is Kata Simon and The Key of Bar&Tender crew. After a couple of years dreaming up devilishly creative cocktails at Below Whisky Den, Kata’s headed across town taking her team with her. The bar’s just a part of the project.
Upstairs is a cocktail academy where they plan to turn out the next generation of Vietnamese bartenders. “It’s our extraordinary new bar concept,” Tom announces with the kind of theatricality you’d expect from the proprietor of a gentleman’s club. “Here you can find Vietnam’s finest bartending academy and drinking establishment all under one roof.” The drinks are tributes to historical figures — there’s a Harry Houdini and a Marie Curie, “but I recommend the Winston Churchill, with Ardbeg 10 and Johnnie Walker and Port & Leffe brown syrup, that comes with a chocolate cigar straw. Oh, and it’s served in an ashtray!” The creativity continues…
Why: Because Saigon’s gentlemen never had it so good.
Where: 12/4B Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, Da Kao, District 1
Like a good pastry, Bakes has been a while in the making too…at least as a stand-alone store. You might have already tried their pastries. That’s because Bakes supplies some of Saigon’s coolest cafés and most successful eateries – places like Thinker & Dreamer Coffee and Anan Restaurant. “That’s right,” Creative Director Laure Chevallier confirms, “we launched online in 2015 doing deliveries and partnering would some of our favourite places.”
Now, working with Head Pastry Chef Sara Wu, they’re “ready to serve you fresh everyday pastries, special occasion cakes, homemade jams, gifts, crafted drinks — using natural ingredients and zero preservatives.” Standouts are satisfying seasonal specials like their stack of moon cakes sold in a natty tube. And regular delights like their delectable Cafe Sua Da Bite deserved a home of their own, a parish of pastry, a church of desserts. They’ve built it, with creative agency The Lab Saigon, at 47 Tran Cao Van. With only five tables, you might want to get take out to enjoy by Turtle Lake. “Oh, and there’s free homemade treats for dogs!” Laure adds as we’re leaving.
Why: If friends don’t get you a Bakes cake for your birthday, they’re not real friends.
Where: 47 Tran Cao Van, District 3
Pot Au Pho
It’s contentious. Did pho come from the French dish, pot au feu? Or are its origins Chinese? Anan Restaurant’s Peter Cuong Franklin is no stranger to controversy. He outraged foodies (and then delighted them) with his $100USD pho and its more affordable versions. Then he told everyone via the SCMP that Vietnamese spring rolls aren’t even Vietnamese. And so his new noodle bar (conveniently in the same building as Anan Restaurant and Nhau Nhau) Pot Au Pho is dedicated to pho, and its uncertain origins. “Let’s just call this place a homage to Vietnam’s national dish,” Peter smiles.
The signature dish comes in a ceramic bowl topped with a satisfying golden brown crust and the kind of finely diced vegetables Paul Bocuse would have approved of. Besides that, they’re playing around with cao lau and other regional noodle dishes. “This is very hard to make,” Peter nods sliding a bowl of cao lau across the sushi-restaurant-like counter. They’re also considering 2am closing time — which might make this the perfect after-hours refuelling spot.
Why: A new kind of noodle bar.
Where: 89 Ton That Dam, District 1
FAVELA House of RumS
Below Drinking & Healing is another new bar. This one is dedicated to rum. Vietnam has an affinity with the spirit thanks to the wealth of local sugar cane. With brands like Sampan and Rhum Belami capitalizing, it makes sense that a bar opens dedicated to the spirit. “We’re dealers in happiness,” co-owner Kevin begins. “The favelas are notorious for their dealers, and rum is an intoxicant known to bring happiness,” he laughs, “but really favelas inspired us because of their energy and creative spirit – and because they’re under the radar.”
Why: Some Brazilian spirit comes to Saigon.
Where: 25 Ho Tung Mau, District 1
The Brix is big. “Over here, beneath the pergola is our restaurant and bar,” marketing manager Sarah points as we breeze in through the terracotta brick entrance that gave the place its name. The escapism vibe is strong in this space designed by Studioduo. “Think urban escape in the heart of Thao Dien,” Sarah agrees as we take in the understated opulence — lots of lush tropical plants, wood, and muted earth tones.
We go over to check out the restaurant and cocktail bar (another 2,900 sq ft. of space). The modern-Asian menu has lots of French touches, besides Shrimp Tataki are hearty pots of mussels. And plates are made for sharing, the local way. There’s an expansive wine list (and cellar beside the bar) and an evolving cocktail menu too. We contemplate ordering the rum-based THE BRIX Canh Chua with fresh pineapple, home-made tamarind syrup, and a touch of spice. But, we opt for a refreshing juice instead. The Beet Lover is perfectly tart and earthly. And, Sarah, explains, as we set the glass down, this all doubles as a furniture showcase blurring the line between home and hospitality. You can order the seat you’re sat on — and inside will be a space for events and a place to show off even more chic furnishings. “Food, wine, and interior design,” she laughs.
Why: An expansive urban escape.
Where: 26 Tran Ngoc Dien, District 2
MA Espresso & Bar
At the end of an alleyway (like most of our favorite places) in District 3, MA Espresso & Bar is serving classics with some street attitude. Sip a refreshing Coldbrew Lemonade with zest of trà chanh (Vietnamese iced tea), while you contemplate the universe in this cosy, distraction-free space as Saigon wakes up (MA Espresso & Bar kindly open at 7am). Or indulge yourself with a melt-in-your-mouth Afrancegato if you are a fan of coffee and ice cream and want the best of both worlds.
After dark is another story. Then, MA Espresso & Bar stops serving coffee. In its after-dark incarnation, MA is a cocktail bar with some Japanese touches. Slink down into this den of night-time iniquity, sidle up to the bar, let the super-talented (and chilled) staff order for you and you’re in for an amazing evening. Though their signatures include home-grown plum cocktails and Izakaya-style food, MA Espresso & Bar claims itself to be authentically Vietnamese. “Sorry, fancy coffee shops and club lounges — our heart’s with the streets of Saigon.”
Why: Top quality artisan coffee and cocktails tucked in a secluded alley.
Where: 378/3 Vo Van Tan, Ward 5, District 3
Nguyen Dinh Chieu Street is home to many of Saigon’s best kitchens, and Laairai is another strong contender for the crown. Here, fusion is not a dirty word. That’s because Laairai is a celebration of Vietnamese specialties with modern touches. The restaurant takes the flavours and spices of Asia – a catch-all that includes Japan, Thailand, Singapore and of course Vietnam – and remixes them as thoughtful, nuanced dishes. Must eats are Spicy Sour Octopus and Stir fried Cha Soba Noodles with Prawn and Garlic Butter.
Laairai’s hushed, reverent atmosphere is due to the sleek black walls and minimal lighting, creating a “black cube” experience that triggers your sense of discovery. But if you prefer a poetic green space and open air, take a seat on the second floor and enjoy the show.
Why: If you like to nhau, you will love Laairai.
Where: 100 Nguyen Dinh Chieu, District 1