Online Editor Niko dusted off his “poquito” Spanish vocabulary and went to work. “Sencillo pero bueno,” he read — simple but good. “Tapas baratas y buen servicio” — cheap tapas and good service? All on a street without much motorbike traffic? Ok, we were sold.
Heading to the Tan Dinh elbow of District 1, we stepped inside Tapas Saigon’s trim two floors, amid jaunty Mediterranean colours and eerily evocative bullfighting photos, which were hung at the haphazard angles you’d expect to find at a place with more history. Tapas Saigon hasn’t achieved that kind of aura yet, but they’re working on it.
Plate after Plate
Staying away from mains, the six-page menu breaks down into ‘meat’, ‘seafood’ and ‘other’ kinds of tapas. We tried one or two of each, and finished the meal with a complimentary churro dish (VND29,000) that my gluten-intolerant dinner mates couldn’t eat. The churros were good. Megan said, “If I didn’t have class tomorrow, I’d eat one of those even though it would make me super sick.” I had two of them, as she urged me on.
Our tapas choices included corn flour tortinos with wild boar minced meat (VND89,000). Megan was overjoyed. “Coming from someone who hasn’t eaten bread in a long time, they’re perfectly flavourful, crispy, moist and wonderful.” For me they were the best dish of the night.
The “Tapas Saigon sauce” — aka, mayonnaise — smothered patatas bravas (VND34,000) weren’t far off from that best-dish territory, with a perfect deep-fry balance of crispy skin yielding to creamy potato.
Less impressive were the undercooked potatoes that came in the visually appealing octopus dish pulpo gallego (VND74,000) — one of two octopus dishes on the menu. I was pretty thrilled by this scheduling quirk until I bit into a rubbery tentacle — which almost squeaked as I chewed my salty way through it. This was the one underwhelming dish that came our way.
The paella (VND74,000) is mandatory, of course — a super-solid rendition that packs in the seafood, and is easily splittable even if it says that it’s for one person.
Lastly, we got the grilled vegetable plate (VND64,000), a dippable selection of tomato, cauliflower, zucchini, onion, mushroom and pepper, complemented with a dill dipping sauce and some more of the Tapas Saigon mayo-bomb. If your child is one of those vegetables-are-gross types, you might want to order this for him.
The sangria (VND245,000/1.3L)? Another solid rendition, one that we drank a tidy two pitchers of.
Sitting over the remnants of the meal, we felt full and over-stimulated, both from the food and from the décor. And this, it seemed to us, was the true take-home of Tapas Saigon — a meal as a window onto a different experience of life. — Ed Weinberg
Tapas Saigon is at 53/26B Tran Khanh Du, Q1, HCMC