Eating French style in Saigon

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  Restaurant owner Alexis Melgrani works as chef, manager, and sommelier of Le Bouchon de Saigon

Le Bouchon de Saigon is located in downtown Ho Chi Minh City overlooking Idecaf, the French cultural center.

I go there at noon and the restaurant is quite crowded. I choose a table next to a small bookcase near the bar from where I can see Idecaf's lush garden.

The place offers French food and has an outdoorsy southern European atmosphere. Alexis, the owner, suggests wine options for the food.

Alexis Melgrani and his wife Jenny opened the restaurant with two other friends last year. He created the menu, and works as chef, manager, and sommelier.

Melgrani, who was born in Senegal to a French father who worked in the hotel industry, came upon his dishes in a variety of ways: He learnt to make traditional veal stew with pasta from his mother, while his seafood linguini was born by chance when he accidentally burnt a sauce one day.

Before coming to Vietnam he worked in restaurants in Brazil, Switzerland, and the US, which offered him exposure to various cultures and palates.

"We offer modern French cuisine. Instead of butter, we use olive oil. To create the menu, I used my different experiences. And I like to collect home cooking recipes."

For lunch Melgrani recommended two dishes, a tuna tartare with fresh and sun-dried tomatoes (VND180,000) and homemade foie gras terrine (VND285,000).

When they came they were both so beautifully decorated and arranged that I was apprehensive about eating for fear of destroying the lovely aesthetics.

The foie gras terrine was served with salad and bread in a long black dish and proved to be a good starter. But I preferred the tuna tartare with fresh and sun-dried tomatoes and coriander, which was very flavorful, light, and fresh.


40 Thai Van Lung Street, District 1, HCMC

Then I had a quick look at the menu. The restaurant has limited but appealing options for starters, salads, and meat dishes, a list of 11 fish dishes, seven other dishes in a specialty corner, and four crustaceans.

Among the starters and salads, the highlight is probably snail with parsley and garlic butter (VND160,000). But equally appealing is the fresh and smoked salmon tartare with lime and shallot dressing (VND180,000), French onion soup topped with Emmental cheese (VND75,000), a warm goat cheese salad with house dressing (VND180,000), and heart of Romaine with anchovies, Caesar dressing and parmesan.

Tuna tartare with fresh and sun-dried tomatoes (R) and homemade foie gras terrine at Le Bouchon de Saigon
Among the meat dishes, the most tempting were traditional beef tartare with mesclun salad and homemade fries (VND340,000), rib-eye steak, garlic parsley butter with mesclun salad and homemade fries (VND380,000), chicken fricassee with mushroom risotto and parmesan biscuit (VND380,000), and duck breast magret and French whole-grain mustard with sautéed potatoes (VND320,000).

From the fish menu I want to try pan-seared sea bass, cherry tomato risotto and basil bisque sauce (VND240,000), and pan-seared salmon teriyaki with artichoke barigoule (VND280,000).

The specialties and crustacean menus include rabbit stew in red wine (VND320,000), duck leg confit with garlic sauteéd with mushroom sauce (VND320,000), traditional veal stew with pasta (VND350,000), Mussels quenelles in saffron broth and spinach (VND220,000), and fresh steamed mussels in white wine and homemade fries (VND300,000).

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