In an editorial meeting, our Norwegian creative director told us:
“Mad means food in Danish.”
I had always wondered how MAD House had got its name. Considering that the owners and investors were Danish, suddenly it made sense. It was one of those, “aah, that’s why” moments.
You see, I’d first headed down to MAD House just after it opened. I’d liked the place — with its leafy garden atmosphere and dark wood, rustic-styled furnishings, it was difficult not to. This District 2 villa converted into a restaurant is easy on the eye. Fan-cooled and with a focus on al fresco dining (there’s also an aircon, indoor space), it seemed to fit the pseudo Mediterranean setting so popular in this area.
But I’d wondered. First was the name. Mad, barmy, insane, rash, reckless. Where was the method to the madness (pun intended)?
Second was the location. Tucked down an alley behind the Arsenal soccer pitch on Thao Dien’s ‘in between’ road, that thoroughfare connecting the main drag with Riverside Apartments and ISHCMC on the other side, would the hideaway location quite literally conceal this eatery, bar and café from view?
My latest visit would provide evidence that name and location were not proving a bane. Rather, I found myself in a restaurant and chill-out venue that seemed to have its mid-range, comfort food menu on a solid footing. I also discovered a place that demonstrated an almost obsessive eye for detail. From the tiny salt and pepper jars to the chicken coop-like lampshades and mozzy repellent placed on the outdoor tables at night, MAD House is a restaurant created and run with a lot of love. It’s great to see.
Now for the Food
Comfortably settled in the garden area with my dining partner, we went for two starters. Both seafood. And both excellent, although I did have some slight quibbles.
Served on a wooden chopping board over mounds of salt, the scallops with garlic and chilli butter (VND150,000) were melt-in-your-mouth sublime, each of the six crustaceans hitting the buttery spot. The only thing, I couldn’t taste the chilli. Yet this dish was so good that the chilli seemed like an unnecessary addition.
The baby octopus, goats cheese, arugula and potato salad (VND175,000) came with a moreish tomato relish and was a dish that married different types of textures with finesse. From the tender consistency of the octopus to the crunch of the arugula, with the softness of the potatoes and goats cheese in between, the mix and taste was just about spot on. My only quibble: the strength of the goat’s cheese dwarfed the subtlety of the octopus. I have a thing about Galician-style octopus, a dish with a lovely, salty pang. Maybe it was my expectations that were wrong: we ate every last morsel.
The mains were beef, beef and more beef, my partner opting for the Australian flank steak cooked with wild pepper, shallot, garlic and thyme (VND265,000), all served up with an extra portion of thick-cut fries. Cooked to a perfect medium rare and smothered in a subtle pepper sauce — yes, pepper that was actually subtle — this offering just goes to show how you don’t have to have the ‘best’ cuts of beef to make a good steak. This beef was tender, melt in your mouth. And as for the fries… So nice to go somewhere that actually gets them right.
My beef tartar with cornichon, onion, capers, egg yolk, mustard, herb and French fries (VND275,000) was tart but sweet, soft yet crunchy, with a powerful yet not overwhelming aftertaste of mustard. I was full halfway through, so good were the starters, but I loved every mouthful — proof that you don’t need to be a Gallic-influenced restaurant to serve up your beef raw.
Washed down with a glass of red wine — both the wine list and selection of international imported beers were commendable — I left this dining establishment feeling more than satisfied. The bill wasn’t over the top, either: VND1.2 million for the lot including a digestif.
There is a plethora of mediocre restaurants in this town. Tripling up as a restaurant, a café and a bar, MAD House is a member of the growing cohort that sits a few levels above.
MAD House is at 6/1/2 Nguyen U Di, Q2, HCMC or at facebook.com/madsaigon
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