The steak sat before me in an imposing mound. It wasn’t so much large but thick; it dwarfed the scattering of potato cubes that lay beneath, making them resemble doll portions rather than human ones.
The emphasis indicates where Jackson’s priorities lie. The kitchen does a respectable job with alternative (read: non-red meat) fare, dishing out contemporary international plates like gently charred Cajun chicken arrayed on a bed of zesty chickpeas, or creamy risotto topped with wild mushrooms for the vegetarian crowd. But these aren’t particularly distinctive. The real reason to come to this eatery, which opened in late 2011, is the steak.
The French chef prepares imported beef from the US, Australia and New Zealand with generally superior technique, which also extends to the service: as soon as you order a steak, a server swoops in with the proper cutlery, an attentiveness that is repeated when the dish arrives and you are offered a selection of mustards. I opted for the lunch set menu (VND350,000), in which the New Zealand sirloin comes drizzled in bechamel sauce, with a few sprigs of asparagus and those miniscule potatoes. (This was my biggest complaint about an otherwise pleasurable meal: would it really hurt the chef to cut the potatoes larger, so that they matched up to the enormous steak? Or to pair the meat with a more substantial vegetable?) For dinner, diners can choose from a range of classic sides, like truffle mashed potatoes, onion rings and creamed spinach.
The setting could best be described as ‘business casual’. Leather seating and smooth maple furniture make the room feel properly dressed without being stuffy. Divided into lounge bar and proper restaurant areas, the modern setting is equally appropriate for a business lunch or a romantic dinner. The luxury enclave of Trang Tien Plaza across the street could take a few pointers from the interior design here.
And maybe the steak isn’t the only reason to come to Jackson’s. Servers are not only polite, they act like they’re actually enjoying their job. When a dining companion notified the server that his Cobb salad — otherwise artfully garnished, with generous slices of chicken and avocado and wisps of micro-greenery — lacked the requisite egg, the server immediately ran back to the kitchen. Three minutes later, a freshly cooked egg arrived at the table, along with profuse apologies.
A Rounded Experience
The pleasure of dining at Jackson’s starts when the meal begins, with a basket of warm rolls in fluffy flower shapes, served with a garlicky baba ghanoush. Restrain yourself from eating the whole thing; you will need your appetite for that massive steak.
The appetizers are well-portioned for this purpose: large enough to satisfy, while light enough to leave room for the substantial mains. The best choice on the lunch menu is the grilled vegetable salad — sticks of warm root vegetables, squash and colourful bell pepper served in a tangled nest, topped with fresh leaves and crumbled feta. It’s the kind of dish that would be a no-brainer in the West, but feels like a breath of fresh air in a city where well-done casual western dining is all too rare.
Dessert is a surprise, changing every few weeks. On this particular day, a petite oval of apricot mousse arrived at the table — though in a strange omission given the typically excellent customer service, no one explained what it was until I asked. Still, the light, airy mousse was the perfect finish for a set meal that struck an ideal balance between restrained portions and pleasurable gluttony. Clearing my plate, I felt satisfied enough to start plotting my return.
Jackson’s is at 23 Hai Ba Trung, Hai Ba Trung Tel: (04) 3938 8388
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 anonymously and pays for all meals