Vietnam House, by celebrity chef Luke Nguyen, delivers high-end Vietnamese dining in elegant surroundings.
You probably know Luke Nguyen (above) from his television series ‘Luke Nguyen’s Vietnam’ and ‘Masterchef Vietnam’, or from his many books, including his latest, Luke Nguyen – Street Food Asia.
What you might not realise is that the Australian-Vietnamese chef has quietly been building a restaurant empire that now includes the upscale Vietnam House in Ho Chi Minh City, where I was lucky to dine in March.
Housed in a restored French colonial building on the corner of Dong Khoi and Mac Thi Buoi in District 1, this was the location of the famed Bar Catinat in the 1940s and Café L’Imperial in the 1950s (below).
It was the place to be seen for Saigon’s affluent business class, but as the US presence increased in the 1960s, it became a popular meeting place for American GIs.
The times may have changed but the restored colonial building in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City, known as Saigon until reunification in 1976, still evokes feelings of nostalgia and grandeur, even before you set foot inside.
From its storied street corner location and art deco interior to its modern take on Vietnamese classics, Vietnam House is a dining experience that ignites the senses.
The first thing you notice when you step inside the 180-seat restaurant is the obligatory stack of freshly-minted cookbooks by the celebrity chef.
But it’s the extravagant fit out that really demands your full attention – from the marble floor and towering columns, to the decorative glass fan dividers and the calming tones of teal blue.
Up a marble staircase there are separate rooms from private dining or large groups.
The menu here is a modern take on popular Vietnamese classics. Nguyen’s influence comes through with fusion dishes such as Australian pork ribs slow-cooked in young coconut juice and served with carrot puree and choy sum.
Seafood also features prominently, from char-grilled lobster in a Phu Quoc pepper sauce (an island in Vietnam’s south famous for its spicy pepper), to soft rice paper rolls with seared sesame salmon.
Street food favourites like the savoury pancake bánh xeo, Wagyu beef phở and Wagyu beef la lot are dressed up in typical Nguyen style.
I visited one lunch time with my partner and we opted for a selection of starters that more than satisfied. Here’s what we ordered:
Fresh pork and prawn summer rolls. These rice paper delicacies were stuffed with tiger prawns, pork, flat rice noodles, bean sprouts and fresh herbs and served with soya peanut sauce. So moreish.
Our taste buds were dancing after devouring these fresh oysters dressed with soy sauce, Vietnamese herbs, lime, truffle paste and black sago pearls.
Tender and tangy, this char-grilled half sun-dried squid was doused in chilli and salt and served with rosé pomelo salad.
Deep Fried Chicken Wings
Who doesn’t love crispy, deep fried chicken? These juicy wings were marinated in lemongrass and chilli, lightly coated in tapioca and deep fried to perfection. The cooling aioli dipping sauce gave them perfect balance.
And it was all washed down with a tall, frosty glass of Saigon Special – the local beer – while my partner settled for a glass of wine.
This is a more expensive dining experience compared to many other restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City, but it’s worth every cent for the ambiance, service and quality of food.
The truth is, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a dining experience nearly as memorable, or for such good value, anywhere else in the world.
Vietnam House is located in the heart of District 1 at 93-95-97 Dong Khoi, not far from Nguyen Hue Walking Street.
It’s open every day from 11.30am to 3pm for lunch and from 5.30pm to 11pm for dinner.
This is an independent review. We dined anonymously and no payment of any kind was received.
© 2020 Bernard O’Riordan (Travel Instinct). All Rights Reserved.
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