This post is also available in: Vietnamese
Nationwide last year, out-of-home restaurant visits in Vietnam increased to 147 annual visits per capita. As the popularity of eating out grows, competition is increasing, and to be successful Western restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City need better concepts, branding, and cuisine…without compromising authenticity.
District 1 is home to the highest concentration of Western restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City. In search of innovative but unadulteratedly authentic dishes Vietcetera visited five Western restaurants in District 1 who are working to share their culinary heritage with this part of the world. From English fish and chips to gourmet burgers, Spanish tapas and Belgian flammekueche, finding a restaurant that serves up a beloved childhood favorite is becoming easier every day.
Western restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City: Five to try
1. Marcel Gourmet Burger
The word “burger” evokes images of corporate American fast-food chains. But Marcel’s founder, Alexandre Halbers, is doing the opposite at his gourmet burger joint. Halbers founded Marcel Gourmet Burger intending to elevate the burger-eating experience here—with a splash of French culture. “And the name? I wanted something catchy, typically French, but with a vintage touch,” he laughs.
In France, the concept of farm to table is ubiquitous. Open markets like Marche Richard Lenoir in Paris—where local farmers sell fresh, high-quality produce—cater to the demands of local shoppers. But here, Halbers had to overcome significant obstacles to get his hands on the produce he believed in.
“By sourcing fresh vegetables from trustworthy local suppliers, and importing French products from Repertoire Culinaire we make all our dishes from the highest-quality ingredients,” he assures us. Marcel Gourmet Burgers are also committed to making many items in-house—including their homemade brioche buns, and ketchup and spicy mayo.
Marcel’s Le Bamboo specialty burger is the chef’s choice. They smother the grass-fed beef patty with Brie de Meaux, truffle and black garlic aioli, carrot slaw and mustard cress. And it’s all neatly stacked underneath the organic bamboo-charcoaled bun.
Other bestsellers include Le Big Marcel—their version of the classic beef burger with Wykes mild cheddar, homemade ketchup, honey mayo and gherkin relish, and iceberg lettuce. It comes topped with an onion ring. And then there’s Le Signature—the “Frenchiest beef burger” on the menu with its runny raclette cheese, Marcel’s secret pepper sauce, balsamic caramelized onions, gherkin relish, lettuce, and a slice of beef heart tomato.
2. Union Jack’s Fish & Chips
Union Jack’s Fish & Chips is a tribute to a chip shop at 44 London Rd, in Bagshot, England. Its founder Matt Ryan wanted to open a British restaurant in Saigon for years, but it wasn’t until he learned his favorite childhood chippy was potentially closing down that he finally flipped the “open” sign.
“This is the most authentic fish and chip experience you’ll find in Vietnam,” Ryan smiles. At this Western restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City, chefs use the Yorkshire method, where they cook their fish and chips in beef dripping. They triple cook the chips too—boiling, frying, and then frying them again. In fact, everything at Union Jack’s is homemade, including its battered black pudding, sausage rolls, and curry. For those who miss a taste of Scotland, the eatery even offers up the unusual fried Mars bar.
Stepping inside, it’s unmistakably British. There is bright red and blue decor, with the story of Jack the Fisherman pictured on the walls. Classic British songs play on the stereo and the chippy invites customers to a cup of tea by Ryan’s attentive staff before they order.
And Union Jack’s have started to incorporate international flavors, as with their fish and chips taco with malt slaw which took home a silver medal in Ho Chi Minh City’s Taco Loco Fest 2018. “We only joined for fun,” Ryan smiles.
They also won a bronze for their vegetarian curry taco that same weekend. But this chip shop will always be most inspired by the original at 44 London Road.
3. Belgo Belgian Craft Beer Brewery
Belgo’s customers aren’t just here for the Belgian food. This craft beer brewery is also providing a true Belgian experience. Its quirkily eccentric atmosphere draws on interior design features like bowler-hat lampshades—a tribute to Belgian surrealist Rene Magritte. And there’s a 1967 Honda motorbike hanging from the ceiling too.
The installation is by French-Vietnamese artist Trang Suby, whose idea was to feature an invisible driver losing objects such as comics and films from his backpack—it’s an artwork that plays on the cultural juxtaposition between Vietnamese and Belgian culture.
“The design recreates a 20th century Northern European industrial atmosphere,” head chef Adam Van Overwaele tells us. He spent six months developing Belgo’s menu. Besides iconic Belgian fare like fries, beef stew, flammekueche, waffles, and chocolate fondue, Van Overwaele took the initiative to invent a handful of Belgian-Vietnamese fusion dishes respectful of the local consumer. “Rather than only offering larger portions, the menu includes a range of small dishes groups can share,” he nods.
One popular signature dish is the barbecue ribs and chicken liver pâté. For a lighter option there’s the Belgo salad—greens topped with chicken, gouda cheese, bacon, cherry tomatoes, sesame seeds, yoghurt, and a vinegar dressing. Authentic Belgium mussels is a must-try, but a true Belgian experience isn’t complete without one of their beers. Brewmaster Gert Keersmaekers produces Belgo’s artisanal craft beers with brewing equipment shipped from Belgium and reassembled here in Ho Chi Minh City.
If you’re unsure what to try chef Van Overwaele recommends pairing a Belgo white or blonde with the seabass cooked in salty crust. If you’re into heavier brews, try pairing the Belgo Black with their on-the-bone tomahawk steak.
4. Octo Tapas Restobar
Octo Tapas Restobar opened only two months ago by executive chef and owner Julien Thabault. He was born in France where he started his culinary journey but worked in London before spending 12 years in Spain. In Vietnam Julien built his reputation while working at Stoker, a popular Western restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City serving aged beef.
The restaurant gets daily seafood from Phu Quoc, except for the Spanish red carabineros prawns, gambero rosso shrimp, and mussels which are imported from Spain, Sicily, and Chile.
Head chef Pedro Goizueta, from Marbella in southern Spain makes everything in-house—even basics like mayonnaise and bread. The ice cream, however, comes from the reputable Danish company Osterberg. A brand chosen for its freshness and quality.
At Octo Tapas, the chefs create their dishes with a meticulous attention to detail. The pulpo a l’OCTO, a braised octopus dish with truffle mash, is one highlight. The chefs mix bread ashes with black olives, paprika, and basil oil, while they braise stock of octopus cooked in beer to make the sauce. And Octo Tapas’ mejillones en escabeche—lightly pickled mussels—come with a punch of sherry and pimenton, and they serve the dish with confit fennel and shallots.
Saving the best for last, Julien introduces Octo Tapas’ moruno prawns carpaccio. A dish made with crispy, diced pig ear, green apple jelly, and a dill dressing with carabinero prawn heads.
The atmosphere at Octo Tapas pairs perfectly with the plates. Under the dimmed lights, the head bartender, Tram Moon, serves her specialty cocktails. These include “the dragon passion” and “the big daddy”—the latter made with aged rum, Martini Rosso, bitters, orange peel, and a smoking cinnamon stick.
While the kitchen supposedly closes at 10:30 PM every night, this is rarely the case. With so many foodies lingering around, it’s quite common that Octo Tapas’ doors stay open until midnight and beyond.
Greece has a lot more to offer than the picturesque white villas and beaches of Santorini—, especially in its cuisine. Hellas is one restaurant working to show Ho Chi Minh City what their culinary heritage is all about.
Hellas’ spices and flavors are authentically Greek—and founder Mrs. Huong Cao, who was inspired by a Greek diplomat friend’s suggestion to open a restaurant, goes to great lengths to import authentic olive oil and fresh olives from Greece. “Grecians consume lots of olives, especially in salad dishes like horiatiki and maroulosalata,” she explains. Feta cheese is another common feature of Greek food. It features in Hellas’ signature dish—moussaka. “We make the moussaka with layers of roasted eggplant, potato, meat, and fresh herbs, all topped with an airy béchamel sauce,” Mrs. Huong continues.
“Although cheese is not commonly eaten in the Vietnamese diet, I still follow the traditional recipe and make no changes. I want to keep the dishes authenticity,” says Mrs. Huong.
Even vegetarians and vegans can find something here. “We use vegetables extensively, from chickpeas to fresh tomatoes,” Mrs. Huong adds about the menu created Greek chef Nikos Zotos. “What I serve here is traditional, rather than modern Greek food,” Zotos proudly reminds us.
This post is also available in: Vietnamese