Fuel The Flames

From tep­pa­nyaki grilled steaks to burg­ers and pas­tas, Em­ber aims to please every­one

Oi Vietnam - - Money Talks - Text by Michael Arnold Im­ages by Ngoc Tran

THEY WARN YOU TO AVOID try­ing to be all things to all peo­ple, but there are some rare in­stances in which this not only works, it's also nec­es­sary. If you’ve ever dithered about where to take some­one out to din­ner for more than ten min­utes, you’ ll ap­pre­ci­ate the value in hav­ing a place you can go that’s guar­an­teed to please ab­so­lutely any­one who might walk in the door—and

Em­ber (Level1-07, Saigon Cen­ter, No. 65 Le Loi, D1) is just such a venue. It has one of the broad­est pos­si­ble menu pro­files; the dé­cor fits the bill for a classy night out just as much as it does for ca­sual din­ing; and with a top-notch Ja­panese chef who has 20 years of ex­pe­ri­ence in French cook­ing, there can be no cause for com­plaints about the qual­ity of the cui­sine.

Em­ber's choice to have some­thing on the menu for al­most ev­ery pos­si­ble diner is a very con­scious strat­egy, and it’s re­ally the restau­rant’s lo­ca­tion in the grand lobby of the flashy Takashimaya mall that makes this flex­i­ble ap­proach key to its suc­cess. Em­ber's prom­i­nent po­si­tion right next to a pair of high­pro­file cafés skirt­ing the main en­trance on Pas­teur means that foot traf­fic is un­usu­ally high, and the shop­ping cen­ter set­ting means cus­tomers of any de­scrip­tion could drop by at any time of the day or night for a cof­fee, snack, or sev­eral-course meal. Em­ber is de­lib­er­ately pur­posed to ac­com­mo­date all, and its re­laxed, Bordeaux-vine­yard vibe with plush leather seat­ing and dec­o­ra­tive styling heavy on the wine bot­tles man­ages to con­jure up a din­ing space that suc­cess­fully veils the muzak and flu­o­res­cent-tube ex­te­rior de­spite the open-plan in­te­rior de­sign.

The restau­rant’s po­si­tion­ing is far from ex­per­i­men­tal or ac­ci­den­tal, but backed up by ex­pe­ri­enced Ja­panese investment group Dine­like—ac­cord­ing to its Gen­eral Di­rec­tor Mit­suhiro Tomita, the par­ent com­pany op­er­ates over 30 restau­rants of all de­scrip­tions back in the home coun­try, as well as a hand­ful in Sin­ga­pore—this is their first in Viet­nam.

While se­lect­ing a steak for our re­view was a nat­u­ral Western indulgence—made eas­ier by the fact that the choice 200g Amer­i­can rib­eye, usu­ally VND559,000, is cur­rently dis­counted 25% un­til the end of June— it’s ac­tu­ally worth go­ing over what we

didn’t choose just to drive the point about Em­ber’s broader ap­peal home.

Its menu reads like a com­fort food checklist for ev­ery pos­si­ble Takashimaya cus­tomer—from Ja­panese tep­pa­nyaki rice through to home-made burg­ers and popcorn chicken. A full pasta se­lec­tion in­cludes Ital­ian fa­vorites as well as Ja­panese Na­por­i­tan spaghetti and Thai soft-shelled crab, while lo­cal clien­tele may set­tle for some pho or Viet­namese beef stew. There is a whole col­lec­tion of

Clock­wise from top left: USA rib eye steak with spinach, ba­con & mush­room side, Viet­nam Look cocktail, Ba­nana & co­conut French toast,

Ti­ramisu French toast dif­fer­ent types of French fries, as well as a se­lec­tion of French sand­wiches and bak­ery items.

But steaks it was, and they were per­fectly-done, served with cus­tom­made sauces (we chose a mildly spicy black pep­per for one and a mush­room demi-glace for the other) and sides—for the for­mer, a health-con­scious sautéed spinach salad, and the lat­ter a more deca­dent crispy fries. The steaks paired well with a fine Ar­gen­tinian caber­net sauvi­gnon (Ter­razas de los An­des ‘Al­tos del Plata’ at VND175,000/glass, a par­tic­u­larly con­cen­trated, el­e­gant wine) while be­ing nicely off­set by a frozen “Viet­nam look” cocktail with lemon­grass syrup & lime (VND98,000).

The broad menu al­lows for a suit­ably fab­u­lous desserts sec­tion, and in our case the French toast of­fer­ings seemed far too com­pelling to pass up on. Em­ber’s serv­ings are warm and soft, piled high with top­pings—we shared plates of ba­nana & co­conut along­side a ti­ramisu, both priced at VND99,000. Like the mains, desserts were metic­u­lously pre­pared, which, as a glance at other ta­bles re­vealed, seems to be the norm at Em­ber—so whether you're stop­ping by for cof­fee to take a break from your shop­ping, bring­ing the whole fam­ily along for a great meal, or try­ing your best to im­press on a first date, you can be con­fi­dent that there will be some­thing on the menu for all, and that what­ever you se­lect will be made to per­fec­tion.

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