Established in 2004 in Yangon, Myanmar, Monsoon Restaurant & Bar officially opened its Saigon outlet last month. Specialising in pan-Southeast Asian fare and offering a host of signature dishes from Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand, the restaurant has been beautifully designed in a stunningly revamped French colonial-era villa, located minutes away from the backpacker area.

 

It’s important to point out that at the time of visiting this restaurant and writing this review, Monsoon was still in its ‘soft opening’ phase and its full menu had not yet been made available. By now certain dishes reviewed in this article may have evolved or disappeared while other brand new meals will most certainly have been added to the fold. Still, the sample menu presented to us reveals more than an adequate breadth to gauge the quality of the kitchen.

 

My partner and I plump for one dish from each country, with the exception of Cambodia, which hadn’t appeared on the menu at the time. We start with Thailand and order a plate of phad thai goong sod (stir-fried rice noodles tossed with eggs, fish sauce, tamarind juice, red chilli peppers, bean sprouts, scallion and shrimp). It’s fantastic. Accompanied with a side of crushed peanuts, coriander and fresh lime, this meal is a taste sensation, with the sharp zestiness of the squeezed lime juxtaposing the sweetness of the tamarind. It’s also remarkably light on the stomach. We devour it as quickly as possible, each bite seemingly increasing our addiction.

 

Crossing metaphorical borders we return to Vietnam and opt for a Saigonese favourite, bun thit nuong cha gio (vermicelli rice noodles served with grilled marinated pork, fish sauce, julienned daikon radish and carrots, cucumber, coarsely crushed peanuts, mint, fresh herbs and deep fried spring rolls). It’s a decent attempt; the pork is flavoursome with a slightly charred aftertaste, while the fish sauce is sweet and mild. Strangely, the noodles are a bit al dente while the spring rolls are soft, lacking that crunchy deep fried outer shell that usually envelops a plentiful serving of mixed pork and vegetables.

 

Those that order the Laos-style laab gai (tossed minced chicken salad flavoured with roasted rice powder and red chillies among a heap of mint leaves) beware; this unassuming-looking dish will knock your socks off. Served with an assortment of raw vegetables (white cabbage, green beans and cucumber), both my partner and I are taken aback by its surprisingly spicy potency (the fiery burn creeping up well after you’ve swallowed your mouthful). The raw veggies prove a welcome counterpoint, especially the cucumber, which soothes and refreshes in equal measure. It’s very tasty, but just be prepared!

 

Our final dish is considered by many to be the national dish of Burma, mohinga (hot fish-paste broth served with rice noodles and boiled fish, and garnished with boiled eggs, gourd-fritters, finely chopped coriander leaves and spring onions, among many, many other ingredients). Neither of us is initially enamoured by the rich and salty, porridge-like soup, however, by the end I’m very nearly a believer. The boiled eggs are an acquired taste, though the gourd-fritters and rice noodles help expand a dish that on its own may fail to dazzle.

 

All things considered, Monsoon is already proving itself an impressive addition to this city’s ever-growing international restaurant scene. Attempting to condense an entire region’s culinary traditions under one roof is a bold and ambitious move. Time will tell whether it was also the right one.

 

The Prices

Bun thit nuong cha gio VND69,000

Phad thai goong sod VND95,000

Laab gai VND55,000

Mohinga VND85,000

 

The Verdict

Food: 9.5

Service: 13

Interior: 11

 

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

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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