Hong Kong’s dining culture doesn’t suffer fools. With droves of new restaurants opening every week and rents looming high, the restaurant game is a Darwinian race to prove one’s strengths up front; and good food is just the start. In order to truly stand out, inventiveness is key; a kitchen must incorporate memorable twists into their dishes to attract the discerning, demanding customer who has innumerable other options. Le Garçon Saigon, a brand-new South Vietnamese establishment on the edge of Star Street, a relaxed wine and dine district in the neighborhood of Wan Chai, does so with aplomb.
A collaboration between Vietnamese-Australian chef Bao La and restaurateurs Christopher Mark and Syed Asim Hussain, Le Garçon Saigon combines elements of Vietnamese and French cuisines, a nod to France’s colonial influence in the Asian country. The decor evokes a chic Parisian brasserie with doors open to the sloping street, mosaic tiled walls and floors, and touches of azure blue.
Mindful of balance, South Vietnamese cuisine encompasses a combination of five fundamental tastes, which correspond to elements (ngũ vị). These are spicy (metal), sour (wood), bitter (fire), salty (water) and sweet (earth). Generous with whole-leaf green herbs, fruits, and vegetables, and easy on the dairy and oil, it’s known for being one of the healthiest cuisines in Asia. Le Garçon Saigon emphasizes this focus on freshness, with a selection of crisp, flavourful, and vibrant dishes made to be shared.
The first thing a diner might note is that predictable bowls of pho are absent from the menu. They are not missed, however, a soup is happily swapped out for some of the best salads in the city. Green papaya, beef jerky, shrimp crisp, and cashew nuts are complemented by spicy tamarind vinaigrette, while shredded cabbage and rau ram and nashi pear is an Asian take on the coleslaw standard. Grilled meats, fish, tofu, and vegetables sing when they’re served as deconstructed wraps, with rice paper, lettuce, fresh herbs, pickles, and vermicelli noodles presented on a separate dish. It’s an art to wrap them to your liking, with a touch of acidity coming from spoonfuls of homemade sauces. These DIY dishes are best accompanied by a bottle of cold Vietnamese beer to refresh the palate between bites.
The restaurant’s pièce de résistance is their bánh xèo: a large rice-flour crepe hued gold with turmeric and designed to be shared. It’s big and it’s beautiful, but surprisingly light, with prawns, chorizo, bean sprouts, and herbs nestled inside the parachuting shell. The restaurant’s French influence shines during dessert, when unspeakably delicious green-gold pandan waffles are served with strawberries and salty-sweet mascarpone ice cream, and topped with almond crunch.
The only miss was the charcuterie platter: a faulty attempt at an Eastern take on a classic Western dish. The homemade jellied meats fell flat and the small handful of pickled vegetables lacked personality. Yet overall, Le Garçon Saigon delivers an excellent interpretation of Vietnamese cuisine. One hopes it is here to stay.
Le Garçon Saigon, G/F, 12-18 Wing Fung Street, Wan Chai, Hong Kong, 2455 2499