"Is that it?” My date points at the discreet little entryway. Above it stretches the sign: Café-Restaurant Ho Chi Minh City.
Squeezing up the staircase, we turn on the landing to see a huge space, warmly lit, and a tall, smiling blond man with his hand outstretched for a shake.
Café-Restaurant is new, but has already featured in a steady stream of positive reviews. My first impressions supported one idea mentioned by them all — the restaurant feels very European, a Continental breeze in Southeast Asia.
Serving from breakfast to fashionably late dinners, CRHCMC sources many products locally. They cook with low amounts of salt and sugar, a touch I appreciate as long as the salt shaker is nearby.
Seating was prompt due to the late hour. The smiling waiter dropped off soft, steaming rolls with a dish of an intriguingly green spread. We tucked into the warm bread rolls slathered with herbed butter, settling into our familiar debate about what to order.
The Continental Touch
While the menu offers a variety of Vietnamese dishes, we went for the Western options.
The meat and cheese board (VND200,000), despite its low cost, left us a bit let-down at how little food it held; I barely noticed the sausage and ham. It tasted great, but I had to ask for more bread to support the rich chunks of Gouda and bleu cheese.
For my entrée, I went with the 250-gram classic steak (VND390,000), a medium-rare striploin with a healthy-sized rind of soft, delicious fat. The accompanying roasted veggies were crisp and lightly glazed with oil.
My date pounced on the lamb chops (VND420,000) after a brief debate over the duck breast. The balsamic reduction was tart, sweet and intense, an excellent high-note with the fragrant, juicy lamb — and especially with the roasted Hasselback carrot glittering with crystals of sea-salt.
Both cuts of meat came with hefty cupfuls of fries, wrapped in paper in a manner that strongly reminded me of the Netherlands — minus the mayonnaise. The fries were crisp and not too oily, yet we only nibbled; the older I get, the less I eat French fries.
We took a side of pesto pasta (VND60,000), light and smooth, bursting with aromatic basil.
Sweet and Tart, Chocolate and Lemon
I appreciated the breadth of the drinks menu, though they offer fewer cocktails than one might expect. Local craft beer, bottled Belgian ales, a sizable wine list and a top shelf of spirits that went on forever… then my date tapped my motorbike key, and I ordered a 750ml bottle of San Pellegrino (VND130,000).
For dessert, we went decadent: the Pur’ (VND160,000), a wealth of chocolate mousse topped with a swirl of cream. The house-brewed limoncello (VND160,000) added a balancing tartness. The most novel taste came from the house-brewed Marou chocolate liqueur, normally VND160,000 but dropped off gratis by the smiling owner.
Dutch for Feng Shui
Set in a large open space reminiscent of a converted 19th-century factory, the tall windows provide an interesting view over the Ben Thanh Market area. The high ceilings and lack of screens or interior walls reduce the intimacy, though the open seating plan lends itself to parties and large groups. The restaurant is also divided by theme, each area showing a distinct character — the open kitchen where the chefs toil, the formal dining tables, the lounge with its sofas, the long bar. The space flows well.
The décor is spare but high quality; a marble-and-brass bar, oak furniture, gorgeous old tiles crowned by a lovely wall painting of French doctor Albert Calmette.
Perhaps not the first destination for an anniversary or swank night out, it delivers value for money in a calm, friendly ambience right by Ben Thanh Market. Café-Restaurant Ho Chi Minh City’s central location makes it a great place to pop in for dinner on your way to the theatre or the opera, or for a lunch with business colleagues and friends.
Café-Restaurant Ho Chi Minh City is located on the first floor at 171 Calmette, Q1, HCMC. To learn more, visit them at crhcmc.com
Food, Decor and Service are each rated on a scale of 0 to 15.
13 — 15 extraordinary to perfection
10 — 12.5 very good to excellent
8 — 9.5 good to very good
5 — 7.5 fair to good
0 — 4.5 poor to fair
The Word reviews anonymously and pays for all meals