Ho Chi Minh City’s food scene has been booming, and we’ve seen many firsts in the last few years — new restaurants, new styles, new cuisines, all appearing regularly. It’s a quiet flourishing, marking a new maturity. We’ve got more choices than ever before, including with Chinese food.
San Fu Lou is hardly the first Chinese restaurant, nor dim sum joint, to hit this city, but it’s one of a small number of hip Chinese eateries that cater to an international mix of Vietnamese, expats and tourists. Snugly tucked into the front corner of the AB Tower, it’s highly visible, and usually visibly full.
My companion and I arrived sans reservation, and servers whisked us to a polished wooden table with benches straight out of a 19th-century Shanghai inn, leaving us with menus and what appeared to be scorecards. Shrugging, I appreciated the size of the menu; good variety without over-reaching.
Style All its Own
The ordering system is unusual — a partial-service system. Customers fill out their cards, ticking off how many portions of whichever items they fancy. Waiters offer advice, and do other, typical waiter-style things. A minor variant of the norm, but worth noting. Some customers mightn’t like doing even that little work at a sit-down restaurant.
Splurging on beef fried rice (VND140,000), wagyu beef and shitake dumplings (VND65,000/3 pieces), SFL Signature duck and black truffle dumplings (VND65,000/3 pieces), prawns in rice-flour rolls (VND65,000/3 pieces), and the San Fu Lou BBQ Combination of chicken, duck and pork (VND220,000), to drink we ordered a large pot of unusually fragrant Puer tea (VND65,000). For dessert, we stayed conservative: mango pudding (VND55,000) and fried banana with sesame seeds and vanilla ice cream (VND65,000).
The BBQ arrived first, and the meat tasted great: well-marinated, tender, juicy. All the dim sum arrived pretty much at once rather than in stages, as is more usual. I delighted in the wagyu and shitake dumplings, simultaneously rich and delicate. The other dishes were also lovely: steamed just right, great proportions of dough to filling, and well-thought out combinations of ingredients. Last came the fried rice, solid but unspectacular. The desserts, too, were solid — not too sweet, not too filling, a relaxed ending to a relaxed meal.
Balance in All Things
The consistency caught my attention: every dish worked, and was prepared well, with attention to detail. All the sauces complimented their dumplings; the tea went with everything. Said in one word, I’d say balance: all flavours harmonious, nothing over-daring nor stuffily old, decent portions at a very reasonable price.
The servers make their ordering system work and although we had that one small hitch of everything arriving at once, they did their job politely and efficiently.
Somewhere between a traditional Chinese pharmacy, gallery and nightclub, San Fu Lou’s decoration scheme is a fun, quirky mix. It works, and the ambience supports the food — dining is an experience for all the senses.
Overall, it offers great value for money, tasty food, good service and a refreshingly fun, playful style. If you’re craving some dim sum, check it out; I’m glad I did, and I’ll be going back on my own dime the next time I just have to eat char sil bao or curried prawn dumplings. Ultimately, that’s the sincerest compliment a food writer can offer a restaurant.
San Fu Lou is open from 7am to 3am and is located on the Ground Floor, AB Building, 76 Le Lai, Q1, Ho Chi Minh City
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