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Vietnamese cuisine with a twist: 2 eateries to try

Sample Ho Chi Minh-style teppanyaki and French-kissed pho at these two modern Vietnamese joints

1. Saigon Teppanyaki and Bar
1. Saigon Teppanyaki and Bar
12 Jan 2016

1. Saigon Teppanyaki and Bar

95 EAST COAST RD, 428793. TEL: 6348-2816. Open daily noon-3.30pm; 5.30pm-11.30pm. Last orders 30 mins before closing. Facebook

The people behind Sandwich Saigon, those banh mi specialists known for their sarnies made with crispy house-baked baguettes stuffed with authentic Vietnamese ingredients, have expanded next door with a teppanyaki business.

Camera-shy Taiwanese owner, Andrew Chu, 48, says the concept is a bit like his marriage to his Vietnamese wife and co-owner, Kelly Nguyen, 33, the self-taught cook whose family owns a baguette bakery in Ho Chi Minh City. The pretty lady makes the sandwiches next door and oversees the menu here. “It’s Vietnamese-Taiwanese fusion,” says Andrew. “Teppanyaki is very popular in Taiwan, and here, we’ve given it a Vietnamese spin with the sauces and dips”. The casual and cosy 35-seater has about 14 seats along the teppanyaki counter, and some tables. Upstairs is a 40-seat bar serving a fairly humdrum-looking selection of beers on tap and wine.
 

On The Menu
On The Menu
12 Jan 2016

On The Menu

The concept is simple. A variety of meats, ranging from entry level cuts to premium options (like live abalone and lobsters) are pan-fried in front of you by a slightly surly teppanyaki-trained Taiwanese chef.

The Vietnamese “twist” is in the sauces that the meat is either cooked in or served with on the side as dips. Our favourite is the piquant Lemon Pepper Sauce, a classic Vietnamese combination of salt, pepper, lemon juice and chilli, which goes great with most of the meats, and a light, fragrant Lemongrass Sauce. There’s also a Vietnamese-inspired Curry sauce, which oddly enough is mostly made of turmeric and fish sauce, but it has a pleasant sweetness and mild spiciness.

The other Vietnamese twist is an à la carte option to have your flash-cooked meats served up in a baguette, banh mi style (sans pâté and other frills) or over rice and noodles. We ordered à la carte, but there are set meals, all served with vegetables (beansprouts and leafy greens) and rice. They start from $16.80, which gets you a choice of stir-fried beef, chicken, pork or shrimp. 

The Food
The Food
12 Jan 2016

The Food

Live Boston Lobster Banh Mi ($29.90 for 300g)
Thrilled by the idea of a Viet-style lobster roll, we opt to have our crustacean served in a banh mi. The bouncy, succulent lobster comes served in a crusty baguette and little else apart from some pickles. You smear on whatever sauce you want. On our visit, Kelly helpfully assembles the sandwich for us, but we suspect it might be a DIY affair otherwise. A lobster roll this is not. The Viet-style baguette is too chewy and crusty, and the sauces so strongly flavoured that they drown the sweetness of the lobster.

The Food
The Food
12 Jan 2016

The Food

US Prime Black Angus Top Cap Steak (above, $55 for 550g)
This hunk of meat, a special cut called the “top cap,” combines parts of the rib-eye and tenderloin, so it apparently has the best of both worlds — rich fatty flavour and lean tenderness. Served straight from the griddle, it’s fabulous: flash cooked to medium rare with a decent sear, juicy and tender. Nothing particularly Vietnamese about this, especially since among all the accompanying dips, the most sensible condiment to go along with this is just some coarse sea salt. For a less fancy cut, there’s a Sirloin Steak ($25 for 550g) that’s decently juicy and pairs better with the Viet sauces.

Mangalitsa Pork Chop ($45 for 550g)
Another premium meat, this is a pork chop from the hairy Mangalica pig, which is apparently kinda like the Hungarian cousin of the Kurobuta. We enjoy it: the chop is richly marbled with slightly nutty-tasting fat, and the flesh is tender and sweet. Once again, best with coarse sea salt.

BOTTOM LINE: A premium teppanyaki experience with a not-quite-convincing Vietnamese twist. There are some relatively affordable options, but they're middling. That said, the premium meats, simply prepared so the quality shines through, are excellent.
 

2. Fat Saigon Boy
2. Fat Saigon Boy
12 Jan 2016

2. Fat Saigon Boy

14 ANN SIANG RD, S069694. TEL: 6221-6784. Open daily except Sun. Mon 11am-2.30pm (lunch only); Tue-Sat 11am-2.30pm and 6pm-10pm. Last orders 2.30pm and 9.30pm. http://fatsaigonboy.com.sg/

The fat Saigon boy here refers to spunky Cang Phai, 38, an Australian-born Vietnamese chef. Why the name when he’s not exactly, er, fat? The man pats his slightly tubby tummy in response. His family runs a few Vietnamese restaurants in Melbourne and Sydney, and Cang previously served his contemporary take on Vietnamese street food at the family’s Melbourne restaurant. He says he moved here to see if his brand of modern Aussie-influenced Vietnamese food would fly in Singapore. It’s been about 10 weeks at this chic café-style 70 seater along Ann Siang Road, and he’s already lamenting that Singaporeans are hard to please. “I’ve been tweaking my recipes to cater to Singaporeans’ taste buds,” he says, but insists that he’s presenting his own Aussie-influenced take on Vietnamese food. Basically, he says with a laugh, it’s “anything goes!”

On The Menu: You can find subtle twists on traditional Vietnamese food, like a rich beef pho soup that reminds us of a robust French bouillon crossed with a light ramen broth, or Viet-inspired “tapas” like Pulled Pork Burgers ($7 for three sliders), greasy deep-fried mantou burgers filled with gingery pulled pork.
 

The Food
The Food
12 Jan 2016

The Food

Beef Pho (above, $14)
Possibly one of the best bowls of pho we’ve had recently. Tender flat rice noodles with just the slightest bite, thin slices of flavourful topside steak (ask to have it cooked a little rarer), better-than-average beef balls, all sitting in a dark and aromatic broth with a beefy lushness. Cang says the secret is in a special blend of brisket, bones, spices and using French stock-making techniques, which include deeply browning all the ingredients first before a 12 hour simmer. That said, our colleague, on a separate visit, found her broth oddly medicinal. Hope that’s not what they mean by “anything goes”.

Chicken Pho ($14)
This comes with rustic house-made chicken balls, deliciously smoky grilled chicken thighs, and a lighter, sweeter stock that tastes more veggie-heavy and less swoon-inducing than the beef. Still good, though. Our editor had the Smoked Duck Pho ($14) and found the stock over-spiced with aniseed. We say stick to the beef.


The Food
The Food
12 Jan 2016

The Food

Crispy Pig Ear Chips ($8)
One of the small plate items, this is sliced pig ear that’s braised for several hours, chilled, then battered till crunchy. It’s a delicious snack, with a subtle gaminess undercut by a punchy dip made from roasted chillies, peanuts and lime.
 

The Food
The Food
12 Jan 2016

The Food

BBQ Lemongrass Pork Banh Mi ($11)
Comes with pickles, French aioli and fresh greens. The baguette is a little limp and there’s only the barest smearing of the great home-made pork pâté (apparently the eatery’s customers don’t like pâté, but we do!), but the char-grilled, smoky pork belly in a fragrant lemongrass sauce is yum, and may taste better over noodles or rice ($14).

BOTTOM LINE: The beef pho is lovely, and we would return just for that. The small plates are hit or miss, but we generally enjoy the bold, punchy flavours and the attentive service here.
 

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