ISAAN IT DE­LI­CIOUS?

Ex­pe­ri­ence Au­then­tic Noth­ern Thai Cui­sine

Oi Vietnam - - Front Page - Text by Nick Pig­gott Images by Ngoc Tran

Eat­ing at Bistro Sông Vie (197/2 Nguyen Van Huong, D2), the all-day din­ing restau­rant at the Villa Sông bou­tique ho­tel in Thao Dien feels like a so­journ in an­other world. Walk­ing through the ho­tel com­pound we past along a roofed walk­way sur­rounded by lus­cious veg­e­ta­tion, past the en­dear­ingly lit 25m pool and through the ho­tel’s el­e­gantly ap­pointed re­cep­tion area.

Be­hind the ho­tel villa, the court­yard din­ing area is strung with warm light­bulbs, giv­ing it the at­mos­phere of a french sum­mer fête, the ta­bles dot­ted far enough apart to give din­ers

a sense of pri­vacy with­out seem­ing sparse. Next to the pri­vate jetty (river shuttle ser­vice avail­able for ho­tel guests, com­ing soon for din­ers), river­side ta­bles of­fer an ob­tuse view up­stream of the new de­vel­op­ments in D2, sky­scrapers twin­kling in the dis­tance, and on the far bank is the is­land of Binh Quoi, where wooden dug-out boats shuttle fruit and rice across the river to the city proper. It’s a view that per­fectly re­flects the menu; mod­ern on one side, tra­di­tional on the other.

The sig­na­ture cock­tails (VND200,000 each) are works of art; The Pearl of Par­adise (gin, pomelo juice, rose syrup, lime juice) looked like a lo­tus flower float­ing on a cloud, and tasted as good as it looked. The lime & ly­chee Saigon De­light was fresh and bright, strik­ing the per­fect bal­ance be­tween sweet and tart, which we en­joyed with the com­pli­men­tary amuse bouche of squid saté.

The West­ern-style prawn starter (VND220,000) is es­sen­tially two dishes, the first; two prawns rid­ing atop slices of drag­on­fruit, whose sweet­ness per­fectly soft­ened the punch of the wasabi may­on­naise. On the same plate more prawns sat in a pool of pow­er­fully fla­vor­some gin­ger and gar­lic sauce, giv­ing us a taste of things to come.

The gen­er­ous Thai pomelo salad (VND165,000) com­prised two huge, firm tiger prawns on a mound of juicy pomelo chunks and shred­ded chicken, and the com­bi­na­tion of tex­tures gave the whole dish a won­der­fully com­plex mouth­feel.

The Aus­tralian Or­ganic Lamb

Rack (VND690,000), pan-roasted and en­crusted in Provençale herbs was ten­der and juicy, served with a thick, sticky red wine sauce. The pre­sen­ta­tion, laid out like a nau­ti­cal com­pass with the four ribs in­di­cat­ing the car­di­nal points, sauteed Enoki and and potato wedges in­ter­spersed be­tween them, was an­other re­minder of the in­ter­na­tional in­flu­ences in the food. Our wait­ress ad­vised us that it would come medium-rare, how­ever mine ar­rived blue, so if you pre­fer meat more well done, be sure to ask for medium. If you’re will­ing to try it as it comes, the dark, pil­lowy hunks of meat are well worth it.

The other main, an Asian-style pan-baked seabass fil­let (VND450,000) of­fers del­i­cate, sim­ple fla­vors. A mari­nade con­tain­ing mirin, yel­low miso and white choco­late tagarashi, could have been over­whelm­ing, but the cau­li­flower cream and onion jus en­sured the fla­vors stayed won­der­fully even, and the fish was cooked su­perbly, flak­ing into the sauce at a touch.

The wines are per­son­ally se­lected and im­ported by Head Chef Jeremy

Choo who makes an an­nual pil­grim­age to France for the Septem­ber har­vest and he of­fers wine rec­om­men­da­tions to com­ple­ment ev­ery dish. Sur­pris­ingly, the restau­rant only of­fers one red/ white/sparkling wine by the glass, so there is lim­ited op­por­tu­nity to sam­ple many of the ex­cel­lent wines avail­able. That said, the Ex­pres­sion Im­per­a­trice 2014 (France, Sau­vi­gnon Blanc) was a de­light­ful com­ple­ment to the dessert, and the full bod­ied River Re­treat 2015, (Aus­tralian, Caber­net Shi­raz) would be wel­come in any col­lec­tor’s cel­lar. Both will be added to the wine list soon.

The dessert menu is filled with so many French clas­sics (in­clud­ing a berry filled choco­late souf­flé and a puff­pas­try Nor­mandy ap­ple pie), that my in­sa­tiable sweet-tooth was in sev­enth heaven, even­tu­ally choos­ing the éclair (VND180,000) filled with mango gre­nache, served with grilled mango and ice cream. The sharp­ness of the gre­nache ooz­ing from the éclair and the mel­low vanilla fla­vored ice cream work well to­gether, and the firm slices of grilled mango pro­vide for some re­ally tasty sub­stance.

Find­ing good cheese in Viet­nam some­times feels like a Sisyphean task, one which Bistro Sông Vie have achieved won­der­fully. The cheese­board (VND280,000) de­liv­ers two-per­son por­tions of five soft cheeses (goat, feta, camem­bert, brie and re­blo­chon) beau­ti­fully pre­sented with twists of pep­pered bread­stick and lightly toasted brioche, mark­ing the per­fect con­clu­sion to a well-rounded meal.

Con­sid­er­ing Head Chef Jeremy only took over the kitchen five months ago and is “keeping the menu sim­ple… for now,” there is enough va­ri­ety in both the West­ern and Asian sec­tions to keep you com­ing back un­til the menu changes in Jan­uary. The staff are at­ten­tive and friendly, and the whole din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence is a low-key de­light. No won­der so many of the ho­tel guests de­cide to eat in-house.

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