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It’s been too long since we were last here, in this space surrounded by hand-painted murals and art deco light fixtures, plush banquettes and intricate mosaic floors. It evokes a feeling, too distant now, of exploration and travel.
We started with the hamachi tartare ($168), which arrived in a bold, vibrant tangerine yellow. This is a modern interpretation of the Vietnamese fish salad goi ca from Da Nang. There is plenty going on here, with a dressing of tomato, chilli, fish sauce (nuóc mam) and garlic giving the chopped yellowtail both its hue and flavour. Pomelo, cucumber, shallot and sawtooth coriander (the best kind of coriander) provide texture and bursts of familiar flavour. We scooped it all up with the crunchy homemade sesame crackers.
A firm favourite of both customers and staff, the bánh xèo ($208) is back on the menu. At the time of ordering this dish, you just cannot appreciate the Hollywood-style presence it will exude at your table; this version is much bigger than a traditional bánh xèo, and the pancake is wafer-thin and crispy. Inside, the prawns are also oversized, and there are oysters amongst the sprouts and herbs, floured lightly and fried. It’s served with lettuce for wrapping 生菜包 style (if you wish) alongside gorgeous perilla, Thai basil and a nuóc mam dipping sauce.
We hacked it a bit (sorry, not sorry) into manageable sections for sharing. This dish in particular was so enjoyable for its balance of taste and texture: fresh and fried, sweet and sour, soft and crunchy. Some bits we enjoyed rolled in a lettuce leaf with layers of herbs, and some we ate directly from the fork with a drizzle of sauce on top. Each bite is a Choose Your Own Adventure.
This dish can be shared with up to four people, but it is light and interesting enough that you could (well, we could) eat it all by yourself as a main.
Chef Theign Yie Phan’s wok-fried clams ($208) are brand-new to the menu and pack a subtle chilli punch. The fragrant curry leaves – some fried, some fresh – provide standout flavour, and bánh hoi vermicelli bundles beneath the clams soak up the moreish sauce. The clams tasted fresh and clean, and we learned they are directly sourced from a local fisherman.
Also new to the menu are two grilled seafood dishes we did not try. The whole market fish, which is selected by the chef herself each day, is tossed in brown butter, lemongrass, chilli and nuoc mam and then grilled. The prawns are served in a tamarind chilli oil and spring onion sauce, after being wood-fired on the grill.
Crispy eggplant and coffee-glazed ribs
Whilst this one is not a new item, it has stayed on the menu for a reason. You must not leave without ordering the crispy eggplant ($108). Each piece of eggplant is lightly floured and fried, with a thin, crispy skin and melting flesh. It’s glazed with ginger without this moistening the outer shell, and it’s covered in an assortment of fresh and stir-fried herbs that you can smell as the dish is on its way to your table. We order this every time.
We also revisited the cà phê sū’a pork ribs ($258), ribs that are brushed with a Vietnamese coffee and condensed milk glaze during cooking and made gorgeous afterwards with a sprinkling of sesame seeds. They are served with a side of pickled radish. We devoured everything, but we did feel the plate was a little plain compared to the other more vibrant dishes we had sampled.
To finish, we enjoyed the condensed milk flan ($78). A take on the crème caramel introduced to Vietnam by the French, this version is served with a more caramelised, darkened coffee-caramel topping, with a roasted, slightly nutty maple syrup flavour over the smooth flan. We thought we would share this, but the flan was so good that we needed to order another.
Whilst we have not yet tried the new market-fresh fish and prawn options, we can vouch for the spicy clams to kick-start your taste buds.
Light and zesty, the bánh xèo and hamachi tartare are perfect for sweltering-hot days and muggy nights. Whilst the bánh xèo is the showstopper, we really can’t get past the tried-and-true crispy eggplant dish, with its light ginger glaze and layers of flavour.
A small, quality cocktail menu, with refreshing options containing the likes of elderflower, calamansi, lemon balm and guava, completes the experience at Le Garçon Saigon. We won’t go quite so long between visits again.
This write-up is based on a complimentary media tasting provided in exchange for an honest review and no monetary compensation. The opinions expressed here represent the author’s.
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