The cool interior of Lion City is a welcome respite from the searing tropical sun. It’s slightly late for lunch and the tightly packed tables are filled with contented looking diners slurping the last succulent morsels from their Singapore chilli or black pepper crabs. The air is filled with the tantalising fragrance of spice and I have the glorious feeling that I am in for a good meal.
Is there a better way to while away a Sunday than delving into some dim sum? At one extreme it can almost be a contact sport: a blizzard of bamboo baskets deposited on your table by hurried waiters, battalions of children running riot, scalding tea cascading across the table — a drop or two even landing in the cup occasionally, and joyfully cacophonic conversations taking place at volume eleven. At the other end of the scale lies Shang Palace; a gentler, more restrained affair.
All red and black and natural stone, Chiisana Hashi is a lovely space. One of the latest additions to the Khai Silk Corporation, the industrial-chic décor creates a feel that is sleek and contemporary but still entirely welcoming. Inspired use of texture and surprising materials (love the screens created from slices of steel pipes) imbue the room with a sense of character not often found in newer restaurants. Large red paper lanterns bob merrily on the evening breeze, enticing passers-by inside.
Marina Ngoc Suong is a great sprawling ocean liner of a restaurant on Nguyen Dinh Chieu. Swathes of space are carved into cosy corners with décor that is tasteful with a subtle nautical theme — think teak decking bars rather than fishnets on the wall. Even on a mid-week night, the place is full of families, friends and corporate groups all there to graze on the fruits of the sea and, no doubt to see and be seen.
Wedged into the heart of backpacker land, the pink booths and crystal wall hangings give Stella a sweetly casual vibe, despite the faded tinsel of Christmas past still adorning the windows. A few street-side tables allow those brave enough to live without air-con a prime position for watching the fascinating stream of humanity that flows along Bui Vien.
Located just off the Central Business District, the dark intricate wooden tables and chairs of this well-respected Chinese restaurant contrast well with the white linen and deep red carpeting. Featuring over 200 dishes including over 50 kinds of dim sum for lunch, the cuisine here is prepared by chefs from Hong Kong. Has nine private dining rooms and a main dining area seating over 300 and is a good venue for events, business functions and family get-togethers.
1st Floor, Norfolk Mansion, 17-19-21 Ly Tu Trong, Q1, Tel: 3823 2221 (Ext: 164) www.shangpalace.com.vn
The first Moroccan restaurant in Saigon’s history has an intimate, cozy setting. Couscous mains start at around VND100,000, while couscous with lamb, chicken and beef is just under VND200,000. Other Moroccan specialties such as slow–cooked lamb with almond and plums and roasted quail with sweet mrozia sauce are also on the menu. Chef Riahi’s home–made pastries such as baklava and “gazelle horns” filled with almond paste are a rarity in the city.
58/9 Thanh Thai, Q10, Tel: 3862 8859. Open 6pm to midnight. Closed Monday
A sumptuous but tasteful Turkish-themed restaurant close to the mosque with Islamic-style white dome décor and comfortable, cushioned seating. The cuisine here is authentically Turkish with a sprinkling of western fare thrown in, too. Think falafel, shish, doner and kofta kebabs, all served up with homemade breads as well as the likes of pizaa, moussaka, fish and chips and more.
25 Dong Du, Q1, Tel: 6291 3677 www.pasha.com.vn. Open 10am to 2am
A pleasant downtown eatery mixing the Argentinian steakhouse theme with pork, chicken, lamb, homemade spicy sausage, skewers, burger dishes and everything that can come off a grill. The smaller downstairs and kitchen area is complemented by a no-smoking dining space upstairs replete with a bar and an outdoor terrace. Add to this bar-brick wall decor, light-wood tables and Argentinian themed photography on the walls and you have a well-rounded, popular restaurant only a stone’s throw from the Opera House.
5D Nguyen Sieu, Q1, Tel: 3825 1879 www.elgaucho.com.vn. Open 4pm to late
Singaporean and Malaysian specialities fill the menu at this friendly, authentic five-storey Lion City eatery. Think the likes of nasi lemak, mee rebus, mee Siam, roti prata, awesome chicken curry as well as the specialities of the house — frog porridge, chilli crab and fish head curry. Does an efficient delivery service and has more restaurants at 701 Ba Thang Hai, Q10, 141 Nguyen Duc Canh, Q7 and 206 Cong Hoa, Tan Binh.
45 Le Anh Xuan, Q1, Tel: 3823 8371 www.lioncityrestaurant.com. Open 7am to 3am
The work of the eponymous owner and head chef Chi Nghia, Papaya is one of the city's unsung gems. Tucked down a tangle of streets near the canal on the edge of District 1, the cuisine here is presented simply but beautifully with an emphasis on top quality ingredients. Prices are cheap, too, with mains going for well under VND100,000, and portions are also on the large side. Well worth a visit
68 Pham Viet Chanh, Binh Thanh, Tel: 6258 1508. Open 10am to 10pm.