“We dim the lights, get the atmosphere right,” Julien Thabault executive chef and owner smiles from the counter of Octo Tapas Restobar. The high-ceilinged top floor restaurant opened by Julien, the former head chef of Stoker, serves a menu of elevated tapas with locally-sourced ingredients.
“We don’t do half measures. And I think the pricing is right too,” Julien nods as the buzz of the first guests of the evening begins and Marbella-born head chef Pedro Goizueta busies himself in front of us in the open kitchen.
The mollusc-inspired Octo Tapas Restobar’s name was also chosen to give good fortune to the place. “Eight is a lucky number, and the symbol also represents infinity,” the executive chef and owner continues. It might help propel the concept across new locations—and cities. “We’d like to expand first to District 2. A place with bar seating only—25 or 30 people—just like London’s Barrafina. Then I want to go to Phu Quoc, then Hanoi, Nha Trang, Phnom Penh, then KL and Bali. I’m giving myself two years,” Julien nods ambitiously.
Octo Tapas Restobar make everything in-house—“from the bread to the mayonnaise”—except for the ice cream “which is by Osterberg because of that brand’s freshness and quality,” Julien explains.
And Octo Tapas Restobar’s head bartender, Tram Moon, formerly of Racha Room, is making specials like “the big daddy”—with aged rum, Martini Rosso, bitters, orange peel, and a smoking cinnamon stick. There is also a menu of red, white, and sparkling house sangrias. They even serve the “spicy, peppery, toasty and ripe” 2012 Bodegas Benjamin de Rothschild & Vega Sicilia Rioja Macan by the glass.
Of course, Octo Tapas Restobar also serves a signature pulpo a l’OCTO—a braised octopus dish with truffle mash. “We blanch the octopus 15 times before we sous vide it for three hours. Then there are some bread ashes mixed with black olives, some paprika, basil oil, and we make a sauce with the braising stock of the octopus that we cooked with beer,” Julien explains. “There are also potatoes, roast garlic, Spanish nora dried peppers, a bit of saffron, and we emulsion it with olive oil at the end,” the head chef Pedro Goizueta adds.
The only diversion from flown-in Phu Quoc seafood and Dalat vegetables are Italian and Spanish prawns and shrimps, and Chilean mussels. “At Octo Tapas Restobar we get the daily seafood catch from Phu Quoc,” Julien assures us. “The only seafood we get imported are these Spanish red carabineros prawns and these Gambero Rosso shrimps from Sicily. And the mussels are from Chile—I find the New Zealand ones too big and overpriced.”
Julien and Pedro are also innovating with a series of specials. They’ve come up with a prawn carpaccio with diced and crisped up pig’s ears, green apple jelly, and a dill dressing with carabinero prawn heads.
“If I had the choice of eating this or sleeping with a girl every day, I’d choose this,” Julien laughs.
Besides the specials, Octo Tapas Restobar’s core menu is grouped into “carnivores,” “cold meat,” “pan,” “para picar,” “from the sea,” “classic tapas” and “signature tapas.” “Our signature huevos rotos—which is normally a fried egg with potato and ham—is quite special here because we do an egg yolk and potato emulsion, and a 64-degree egg with serrano chips,” Julien explains. And then there’s the almejas con serrano y edamame—which is Serrano ham, clams, and edamame beans with an Iberico stock which gives it an umami flavor.
“And another favorite is our mejillones en escabeche—lightly pickled mussels that we home-make with a lot of sherry and pimenton. We serve it with confit fennel and shallots to give it a kick and some sweetness,” he continues. Or take the easier route and rely on the executive chef’s selection—“a we-pick-you-eat ‘Julien Thabault 12-dish tapas feast.’”
“And don’t forget my croquettes de setas…because they’re so creamy. You can’t find a croquette this creamy anywhere in the world!” the executive chef and owner nods contentedly before walking over to talk to some more newly-arrived customers.
Octo Tapas Restobar in short
Try: The prawn carpaccio, where prawns levitate on a translucent green apple jelly. Or the pulpo a l’OCTO—a braised octopus dish with truffle mash—as this is an octopus-themed tapas bar. Then there’s a set lunch and two happy hours to try—the first between 5-7pm and a special late-night happy hour between 10-11.30pm.
Test: One of the creations of the Octo Tapas Restobar’s head bartender, Tram Moon, like “the big daddy” with aged rum, Martini Rosso, bitters, orange peel, and a smoking cinnamon stick. And to eat, trust the executive chef and owner to choose his favorite twelve tapas dishes—the “Julien Thabault 12-dish tapas feast.”
Shoot: Snap a few shots of the chefs and bartenders in the open kitchen and bar, or of the ornately labeled bottles of Spanish sherry, or even of yourself leaving satiated down the cinematic staircase.
In short: At Octo Tapas Restobar, executive chef and owner Julien Thabault, and Marbella-born head chef Pedro Goizueta, serve elevated tapas, sangria, and creative cocktails—by Tram Moon—in a dimmed top-floor space next to Bitexco Tower.
Find: 2nd Floor, 75 Ho Tung Mau, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
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