Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Le Garcon Saigon - a taste of Southern Vietnam in Hong Kong

There is a long history of French domination in Vietnam, including a more than passing influence in the cuisine from the Indochina region. You might not know, but France conquered Vietnam's largest city in 1859 and held sway there until 1945 - where there was quite a bit of global realignment of nation states.

Everything from language to architecture and food were influenced by the French invasion of Vietnam and as a consequence, some incredible food was created by the melding of two nations palates.  Traditional Vietnamese food was most certainly influenced by the French (but then again, this could be said of most countries cuisines) and le Garçon Saigon in Wanchai perhaps epitomises this best.

Le Garçon Saigon is a collaboration between Vietnamese-Australian Chef of Bao La and the boys from Black Sheep Restaurant.  Keeping up their affinity for Australian chefs, le Garçon Saigon has helped deepen the options available to all that live in arguably Hong Kong's fastest growing foodie district.

We'd booked for an early dinner and were surprised that le Garçon Saigon was already half filled by the time we arrived for our 6:30pm reservation, and even more surprised that by 7pm, the place was completely packed.  Hong Kong is a place where dining is done later in the evening, so it was a testament to the concept that it was still drawing so many people many months after opening.

Our table was at the back of the restaurant, underneath some interesting wall murals that included a dog reading Le Monde and a pigeon smoking a cigarette. Given the proliferation of dogs in Paris, it was also not so surprising to see many dogs depicted in the mural.  On the opposite wall, small posters adorned a battle scarred wall that looked as if it came straight from post Vietnam war, there even appeared to be bullet holes in the wall.  An interesting contrast showing the blending of the two cultures - albeit subtly.

It was a hot night, so before we even ordered food, the girl was asking after a cold beer but unfortunately her first two choices were sold out, so she settled for a 'Saigon Export'.  I was happy with just a big glass of cold water.

The menu of le Garçon Saigon takes its inspiration from southern Vietnam with more than a little French thrown in for good measure.  We also noted that there were influences from Hong Kong as well, altering some of the more traditional dishes to suit local tastes.  Looking for a good cross selection, we ordered from different elements of the menu, including 'les entrees', 'les salads', and 'les grillades' (from the grill)  

Opting for something refreshing to begin, our green papaya salad arrived, looking quite rustic. There were bright colours coming from the shrimp crisps and beef jerky, spice came from a tamarind vinaigrette and of course, there was heaps of sliced papaya and plenty of crunch from cashew nuts.  I particularly loved the super thin, almost translucent beef jerky, giving a chewy texture and strong earthy flavour that helped settle the heat from the vinaigrette.  It was super refreshing given the heat of the day!

I particularly loved the Vietnamese version of fried spring rolls cha gio, which had a much richer colour than their Chinese counterparts.  Accompanied by lettuce cups and fresh herbs, the idea was to roll the super hot spring rolls in the lettuce before dipping in to the nuoc mam dipping sauce. Wow, they were delicious, the golden crunch of the spring roll was delicate in flavour, with the filling working wonderfully with the sweet chilli dipping sauce.  The lettuce made them easy to hold, so we could use fingers to eat, avoiding dropping them with poor use of chopsticks (looking at you SC).  I'd definitely order the cha gio spring rolls again.

Using lettuce to wrap food is quintessentially Vietnamese, engaging a diner in the meal through interacting and eating more casually, using hands.  Our mayor wagyu beef tri-tip (bo qui) skewers were no different, a plate continuing lettuce, herbs, pickled vegetables and cucumber provided to combine for a very interactive course.  The beef was cooked wonderfully and a little texture and crunch came from deep fried shallots and peanuts.  The main issue with the dish was the number of skewers that were presented - three.  With only two of us at the dining table, it made for an awkward conversation about who would get the last piece (it was me that time).

Our last main course was the half roasted duck, which had throwbacks to mainland China as well as Vietnam and France, feeling much like a take on Peaking Duck.  It was a complete wow moment, I mean the duck was superb.  Expertly cooked and super moist, the duck was full of flavour which was enhanced by the sticky sauce that it was sitting in.  Instead of lettuce cups, there were the traditional rice paper rolls, which also had lettuce, pickled vegetables and herbs to accompany.  We really loved the duck course and to make up for the previous beef skewers, the girl manage to get an extra couple of pieces of duck.

If we'd been impressed with the meal to date, desserts were about to kick it up a notch.  I didn't actually hold high expectations, with perhaps explains why we loved our desserts as much as we did.

The girl ordered the rhubarb and strawberry macadamia nut crumble, served with custard ice cream and boy was it delicious.  The custard ice cream was impossibly smooth and creamy, contrasting to the slightly tart rhubarb and strawberries.  The crumble was perfect, pulling the dessert together and providing a memorable end to the meal.

Memorable as the crumble was, my condensed milk flan topped with drip coffee and caramel was completely unforgettable.  The condensed milk was super sweet and had a nice firm texture, the coffee rich and dark with a full body and mild acidity and together they were perfectly balanced. The sweetness and the bitterness could not have worked better.  I loved the dessert and would have been happy to order another, and another etc etc.

It doesn't surprise me that Le Garçon Saigon is so popular, the food is quite delicious in its simplicity and good quality ingredients are used.  That it was so packed early in the evening did surprise me a little, given the late dining habits of most Hong Kongers, but I guess with food that awesome and a place that, quite frankly is a little hard to get into at times, I shouldn't have been.

Service was excellent with plenty of wait staff around to help, but we were a little disappointed that the restaurant had run out of beers, in particular the beers that the girl had wanted.  Sure, it was a very hot weekend, but I'd normally expect a little better management of stock.  A small issue, but one that should be easily resolved.

It would have been easy to sit and stay in Le Garçon Saigon for hours, sipping away at cold drinks and people watching in busy Star Street, but we go the feeling that our table was wanted for the next round of diners.  So we reluctantly left and made our way back out to the steaming heat of the Hong Kong summer, just for a moment imagining that we were in steamy Saigon.

We only used our chopsticks for the papaya salad - everything else was fingers
The Vietnamese take on Peaking Duck?
Of course, every diner loves their face being licked by a dog!  In Paris?
Pure Saigon 
Quiet one moment 
Packed the next
The bar area was also doing a roaring trade
A hot night in Saigon Hong Kong

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks very much for your comment, I really love and appreciate feedback and your thoughts


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...