After an icing of our relations, my editor decided to call a détente and asked me if I would be interested in writing another mystery diner piece. The subject — Lubu in District 2 — a restaurant that has earned some nice words from some smart mouths, a restaurant that I had yet to visit but that was stacked close to the top of my to-do list.
“No problem, mate,” I replied, trying to remember our nations’ diplomatic camaraderie in response to his David Cameron-esque extended hand. “All sounds lovely jubbly.”
The frown that followed my second comment suggested that our little Cold War had yet to completely thaw. So I hit a sharp exit from his third-floor editorial office and made a beeline over to Thao Dien.
Whiter than White
The first thing you notice when you enter the air-conditioned interior of Lubu is how white it is. Not peach white, rose white or bluish-white. No, this is the kind of white you find doused on houses in the Mediterranean. Even the abstract oils on the main wall are all white, with only the layered brushstrokes giving them anything resembling definition. The effect works thanks to the sea blue and brick red-patterned floor tiles. Once again these speak the restaurant’s Mediterranean theme — they’re the type of tiles you may find in places as far flung as Portugal, Morocco and Greece. This is continued through to the L-shaped, terracotta-tiled, outdoor terrace, which also commands a sense of the summery, European south.
Besides the décor, I discovered that one of the pleasures of eating at Lubu is avoiding processed foods and other artificial stuff — everything is prepared on-site, even down to the musty-tasting, slightly lemony cola. Coca-Cola is banned from this place.
A good example of the home preparation and the attention to serving up nutritious cuisine comes with the beetroot cured salmon with pink grapefruit, pinenuts and beetroot chips (VND180,000 / VND240,000). Every part of this dish, from the croutons to the beetroot chips to the cured salmon, has been prepared in the kitchen rather than bought in finished form from suppliers. The dish itself is light, mixing the tart flavours of the grapefruit with the saltiness of the salmon. It is Mediterranean yet slightly Vietnamese — pink grapefruit or pomelo is used widely in this country’s salads. And it’s an example of how local products and ingredients are integrated well into the menu here.
Luxurious but Light
Because I wanted to try as many dishes as possible, I went for the starter version of the potato gnocchi, grilled prawns, tomato, burnt sage butter (VND140,000 / VND200,000). Drenched in grated parmesan and sage butter, this is a rich, luxurious dish tempered by the acidity of the tomatoes. The prawns are served Vietnamese-style, with the crunchy tails still in place. And the crispiness of the sage leaf gives this dish a delightful and unexpected amalgamation of contrasting textures. Wonderfully tasty, but not for anyone pretending to be on a diet.
The braised pressed lamb shoulder with mint, tomato and olive salad and harissa (VND200,000 / VND300,000) was a stark contrast to my previous offering, yet once again provided that interesting contrast of textures. Pressed inside a breaded outer layer, the lamb inside is stringy and soft while the bread comes out crispy. Add in the olives, mint and harissa on the side, as well as an herb-coated ball of cream cheese, and you get a contrast of tastes to add to the different textures on the plate. I did have two comments on this dish. The lamb was too dry for my liking and I would have loved the harissa to have more bite. But nonetheless, unusual and tasty fare.
Don’t Stop There
The menu here takes in a lot of other options such as twice-cooked octopus, seared swordfish, pici with duck ragu, New Zealand sirloin steak, kleftico, fine de Claire oysters and of course, a nice variation on a tried and tested theme, lobster and chips. And prices are reasonable, too — mains go from VND200,000 to VND450,000. There is also an extensive New and Old World wine list to go with the cuisine.
Lubu is also getting known for its weekend breakfast that it has now begun to serve during the week. Mediterranean-themed, the breakfasts avoid bacon and eggs, eggs benedict and all things you’d expect in any other normal restaurant, instead opting for the likes of green eggs and ham and the type of breakfast you’d expect to find in that region separating Europe and Africa.
As my editor told me in no uncertain words, this is one of the things that makes Lubu stand out. It’s different, and not your standard kind of restaurant.
“Adam and Eve me,” I told him, trying to add a bit of rhyming slang to the conversation. “It was well worth the bees and honey. I reckon you should take a butcher’s hook.”
If looks could speak a thousand words, then the one he gave me would be worth a million. I don’t think even he understood.
As for Lubu, I’ve eaten in most of the top restaurants in this town. This sits up there with the very best.
Lubu is at 97B Thao Dien, Q2, Tel: (08) 6281 8371. Click on luburestaurant.com for more information
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