Taking its title from the former name of the boulevard on which the restaurant is situated, Charner Café aims to bring a touch of refined Parisian gentility to Saigon’s downtown dining scene.

 

Located above a small art gallery where Nguyen Hue meets Le Loi, we enter a pristinely whitewashed open-plan dining hall. Elegantly furnished with sophisticated French provincial dining tables and upholstered chairs, carved sofas, chandeliers, and heavy, tasselled beige curtains, an aristocratic and bourgeoisie atmosphere pervades.

 

Having taken to our large regal sofa chairs, a peruse through the menu reveals a much more pan-European and Asian-friendly direction than expected. And it’s pricey too. At least in parts. Starters such as homemade foie gras served with garlic bread and salad, (VND345,000) and fresh smoked salmon served with olive oil toast (VND185,000) actually cost more than many of the mains.

 

We opt for the three Toulouse sausages served with onion jam, button mushrooms and grilled baby potatoes to start, followed by the broiled crispy duck breast on risotto with honey and ginger sauce.

 

The waitress, dressed in a flowery yet conservative rural French chambermaid outfit, serves the meaty starter and the portion is jaw-droppingly huge. In total, four (one extra?) grilled sausages lay heaped on top of each other. Bizarrely, none look or tastes like a Toulouse sausage. I see two small chipolatas and two large sausages that resemble a German Bratwurst and quite possibly a Frankfurt Rindwurst.

 

Perplexed but ravenously hungry, I tuck in regardless. The sausages are thick, juicy and delicious, heavy on the meat and lean on the gristle. The sweetness of the onion jam and the robust tang of the Dijon mustard complement the mildness of the sausages, while the delicately seasoned potatoes and mushrooms crumble and melt in the mouth with ease.

 

 

Having waited a little longer than usual for the main course, the staff is genuinely apologetic upon its arrival. In any case, the dish is worth the wait. I count nine generously sized duck breast medallions smothered in the sweet, brown honey and ginger sauce — an unthinkable amount considering the price.

 

Not too fatty or gamey in taste, and cooked somewhere between medium-rare and medium, the duck is tender enough for my knife to slide through unabated. And though carrying enough meat to satisfy the biggest of carnivores, I’m left slightly disappointed by the skin’s lack of crispiness.

 

The risotto and side vegetables, however, are a delight all round. Creamy and congealed, though not dry like so many risottos, the mound of rice is savoury (countering the sweetness of the meat and sauce) and moist, with strands of spinach running through its core. Of the assorted veggies garnishing the plate (carrots, courgettes, green beans) it’s the cauliflower that makes the biggest impact with an unbelievably potent and fresh taste. In a city that seldom gets vegetables right, these are the best I’ve experienced.

 

We end the evening ordering the chocolate fondant with vanilla ice cream. However, what we’re presented with resembles a slice of chocolate mud pie. And though excellent (the cake is rich, solid and moist), I’m left bemused by Charner Café’s misleading advertising. Regardless of the high quality of the food and service overall, they’d be best off working out the kinks in the menu before really disappointing any expectant or fussy customers. To paraphrase the old saying, the proof is in the pudding (and the sausages).

 

 

The Prices

Three Toulouse sausages VND165,000

Broiled crispy duck breast on risotto VND275,000

Chocolate fondant with vanilla ice cream VND115,000

 

The Verdict

Food: 11

Décor : 9

Service: 12.5

 

Food, Decor and Service are each rated on a scale of 0 to 15

13 – 15 extraordinary to perfection
10 – 12.5 very good to excellent
8 – 9.5 good to very good
5 – 7.5 fair to good
0 – 4.5 poor to fair

The Word reviews restaurants anonymously and pays for all meals

 

Mystery Diner

The Mystery Diner is a person hailing from a country that may or may not be Vietnam. S/he can be seen frequently in the restaurants and cafes of Hanoi and HCMC, searching for the most delicious meals each city has to offer. Look for the masked figure in a cape, lurking in the darkest corners of your neighbourhood com tam or pho joint.

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