Dining at anan Saigon. Photo by Aaron Joel Santos
Anan, meaning ‘eat eat’ in Vietnamese, is the first of two street food-inspired restaurants created by award-winning chef Peter Cuong Franklin. Peter is renowned internationally for his creativity and reimagining of traditional Vietnamese food. Located within one of Ho Chi Minh City’s oldest markets, Anan Saigon offers a complete dining experience for the senses. Inspiration for the dishes comes from Vietnam’s long and vibrant food culture, with the use of fresh produce from the wet market right across the street, and choice ingredients from farther afield. Upstairs, NHẬU NHẬU — a modern Vietnamese phở bar — derives its name from the Vietnamese past-time loosely translated as ‘catching up over eating and drinking.’
This is where you can sink your teeth into the controversial yet clever 100 USD bánh mì, sample a Da Lat-style margarita pizza (125,000 VND), or savour the special phở dặc biệt (275,000 VND) made with wagyu beef, marrow, tendon, and black truffle. The imaginative cuisine doesn’t end there. The dessert menu features items such as a chocolate egg (125,000 VND) consisting of salted duck egg cream, chocolate and passionfruit. If that’s not enough creativity for you, wash it down with a coconut worm shot (55,000 VND) made from rum, a live coconut worm and coconut cream.
Fans of Australian celebrity chef Luke Nguyen will already be familiar with his critically acclaimed cuisine, cookbooks and TV series. Luke is also the executive chef and founder of Vietnam House, a contemporary Vietnamese restaurant located on historic Dong Khoi Street in Ho Chi Minh City. Vietnam House offers set lunch and set dinner menus, but it’s the extensive a la carte menu that’s worth exploring to get a taste of Luke’s creativity and the depth and breadth of contemporary Vietnamese cuisine.
Menu highlights include a shrimp mousse grilled on sugar cane (238,000 VND); deep-fried chili lemongrass Iberico pork ribs (298,000 VND); and a Hue-style butterfly pea flower sticky rice dumpling with pork loin, tiger prawns and sweet-and-sour fish sauce (238,000 VND). There are six salad options to choose from on the menu incorporating ingredients from the earth and sea, along with plenty of soups and vegetarian dishes. For dessert, try the coconut panna cotta (188,000VND) with a berry coulis.
This quiet and cosy space is an escape from Hanoi’s frenzied streets. The T-Art’s raison d’etre is simple: to serve up delicious, beautifully presented food made with fresh ingredients and paired with the perfect bottle of wine. Located not far from Hoan Kiem Lake in the Old Quarter, The T-Art opens for lunch and dinner. Chef Hai Anh plates up creative contemporary Vietnamese dishes inspired by a mix of tradition and modernity. Signature dishes include the tamarind crab (119,000 VND) with tamarind mayo sauce, topped with Quang Tran prawn crackers, and the phở bọc tôm (119,000 VND), a creative pan-fried dish using phở-wrapped prawns garnished with shredded dried pork.
Chef Hai Anh’s French training comes to the fore with The T-Arts’ mains, exemplified by its roasted pigeon (269,000 VND) in pandan leaf served with sticky rice and pickles. The dessert menu is also heavily influenced by French traditions with a Vietnamese twist, such as the yogurt and black sticky rice (79,000 VND), combining Dien Bien fermented black sticky rice encased in a velvety dollop of yogurt.
While Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi are taking the lead in modern Vietnamese cuisine, Danang’s young chefs are quietly exploring new ways of dining too. Nén Restaurant – named after the tiny bulb that’s halfway between a garlic and a shallot – has drawn plaudits from near and far for its fine contemporary Vietnamese cuisine. Local chef and blogger Summer Le’s love of Vietnamese ingredients shines through in her garden restaurant, which features homegrown produce in experimental degustation menus.
Nén has three tasting menus to choose from: New Vietnamese, Refined Vietnamese and Green Vietnamese, each 893,000 VND per person. Expect dishes such as mì quảng topped with Vietnamese pesto, clams, kumquat foam and crispy tofu skin; steamed squid in ginger fish sauce, mango mousse and fresh coconut; and for the more adventurous, a young jackfruit curry. The desserts on each tasting menu display a heavy dose of creativity as well. The house-made ginger ice cream with silken tofu pudding and ginger syrup is a standout finish. Each item on the tasting menus are carefully paired with Old and New World wines.
Mango Mango flung open its doors in Hoi An in 2008 and has rightly gained a reputation among foodies for its creative take on Vietnamese and Asian cuisine. Overlooking the Thu Bon River, the restaurant’s punchy, colourful interiors are your first hint at Chef Duc Tran’s creative flair (he designed the restaurant himself). The starter menu includes dishes such as Geisha Fish (185,000 VND), a red snapper tempura tossed with green pepper, garlic and sesame seeds, and Lust In Translation (120,000 VND), tuna rolled in nori and rice paper served crispy and topped with a passion fruit-mint yogurt sauce. The mains are equally creative. Chef Duc excels at using Hoi An’s bountiful seafood, vegetables and fruits to create original dishes that are bursting with flavour, yet distinctly Vietnamese in their balance of tastes and textures.
The Whale Spirit Bar shakes together a refreshing roster of tropical cocktails (try the Asian Invasion); a lounge bar on the third floor with a piano and wrap-around balconies allows views of Hoi An from three sides; and the second floor features an open kitchen where diners can watch each dish as it's prepared.