Reflecting on a fine dining experience

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Wall to wall glass window gives the restaurant its name - Reflections

Vietnam has, in recent years, acquired worldwide fame for its street food, and deservedly so.

It is no surprise that the nation has a thriving eating out culture, given the myriad options and delicious fare on offer on streets nationwide at very reasonable prices.

As a street food aficionado myself, it is not often that I partake of fine dining options in Ho Chi Minh City, but when I reflect on them, Reflections comes to mind.

Located on the third floor of the Caravelle Saigon Hotel, Reflections opens its doors from 4:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. to a luxurious, modern space.

The fine dining experience begins as soon as you step off the elevator into the soft yellow light that bespeaks of warmth and comfort.

A smiling waitress greets us and leads us to a table for two, and holds the chair for me, a gesture that never fails to please. 

I choose a table placed against a wall-to-wall glass window. As the light inside the restaurant is dim, the view outside of bright lights galore becomes more enjoyable.

The "Saigon by night" view of the Lam Son Square is genuinely something to reflect on. So many colors from so many sources twinkling this way and that, and amidst all this play, the splendor of the unmoving Ho Chi Minh City Opera House stands magnified.  

 Reflections Restaurant

3rd Floor, Caravelle Hotel

19 Lam Son Square, District 1, 

Ho Chi Minh City

Inside, in contrast to the silent chaos seen through the glass, there is a stillness accentuated by the white silk that covers every table, on which a lamp casts a gentle glow on the cutlery wine glasses, knives, forks and spoons.

The chair is large and comfortable, and has armrests, which puts me further at ease.

Once we are settled, another waitress in a tuxedo arrives and presents us with the food and drink menus. With a soft voice and a gentle smile, she carefully explains that the restaurant offers a range of Western and Asian selections.

When I order a cocktail, she says that a bartender will bring a mini the bar to my place and prepare our drinks right in front of us.

This is certainly a first for me. And I cannot resist taking photographs as the bartender goes into his act.

The "Appletini" he made for me vodka and apple juice is just the ticket. I think it is a harmonious combination more people should try, far better than the more famous screwdriver.

When we are ready to order the food, the waitress's soft, soothing voice patiently explains every dish I want the lowdown on. She does it without looking at any notes and there is no mumbling. Impressive.

While we wait for the main course, she brings us some homemade bread, which is delicious and crunchy and soft, with an appetizing natural fragrance.

Then there is a surprise. Another dish we did not order is served. She explains that this is a "small something" Reflections serves every guest on the house, and it is something not on the menu that is changed every day. We get some kind of salad with tuna, which is duly enjoyed.

As befits a fine dining establishment, the way the food is served at Reflections certainly gives one pause.

Every time something is served, I take some time to contemplate its aesthetics and preserve the beautiful picture in memory before "destroying" it with my knife, spoon and fork.

Thankfully for our whetted appetites, the portions are generous.

I start my meal with a "double boiled Chinese herbal broth with deer sinew served in baby pumpkin."

Like something out of Cinderella, the whole pumpkin serves as a bowl with its on top serving as a perfect lid. Surrounding it is a layer of Vietnamese com, the green, beaten rice.

However, the soup fails to match its looks, but maybe it is that I was expecting it to be sweet and it turns out to be quite bitter. Not that it prevented me from finishing it to the last drop deer sinew, beans, and the lotus roots, each and every of its ingredients is good for my health, I reckon.

I also try a few spoonfuls of my friend's "sweet corn soup with cayenne spice roasted with prawn and apple dressing." It is greasy and fragrant and creamy and a bit sour, and my friend has no complaints, only praise.

For our main courses we settle for "crispy skin seared salmon on crushed baby potato "˜ecrasse' with sautéed highland mushrooms, steamed asparagus and truffle mushroom sabayon;" and "steamed fillet of seabass on ground opo squash, dill flavored lobster mousse, steamed rice and caramelized bacon," both priced at VND457,000 each.

Here the aesthetics and the taste compliment each other.
The salmon is fresh and well-fried, leaving the skin mouthwateringly crunchy and the seabass, bacon and opo squash carry authentic Vietnamese flavors that we find completely satisfying.

The "rocket, walnut, pecorino and caramelized vinegar dressing" salad that I'd ordered, hits a snag on my tongue. I am not too fond of the bitter taste of the rocket.

Life's good, we feel as we finished our meal, also feeling there is no more space for anything else. But when the waitress finishes cleaning up our table, carefully, we feel a cup of ice-cream, just one, is in order. 

The generous portion vindicates our choice and dinner ends on a very happy note.

I have to mention that as we eat, a band named "Soul and Sound" has regaled us with soulful melodies. The voice of the female singer is especially good, even better than some professional singers we usually listen to.

More than week later, the high, smooth and sweet notes linger in my ears.

Reflections requires its guests to wear formal clothes. No jeans, no shorts or even T-shirts. It should have been a dampener, but it was not. In fact, "casual" dressing would have struck a jarring note in such plush surroundings.

But we are at ease, casual and carrying a bit of "the glow" as we leave.

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