A hundred metres down, the city lights glow orange. I watch red-and-white streaks of traffic, smelling hints of charcoal and seared meat, a sip of 15-year-old Dalwhinnie smouldering in my mouth. Gazing over the breadth of District 1, I reflect upon the three prerequisites of the restaurant business: location, location, location.
Hot new sushi bar / high-class watering hole Sorae, high up in the AB Building, has location and then some, boasting spectacular panoramic views of the city. Sorae radiates welcoming luxury throughout. Smiling hostesses whisk you into the dedicated elevator; 23 floors whoosh by in smooth silence to an oasis high above hectic downtown Ho Chi Minh City.
Upstairs, a young man rolls a Cuban next to a discreet sign explaining cigars; along with its boast-worthy collection of single-malt Scotches, an impressive part of Sorae’s top-end vibe.
Sipping my Scotch, I await my date, stress vanishing as I pore over dozens of kinds of expensive liquor, centred on sake and whisky. Sorae’s atmosphere resembles old-fashioned clubs, funk and jazz booming out of the sound system, chicly-attired waiters making sure your tea is topped up, offering more towels, another drink, another round of sushi.
My date arrives, and carved stones holding pill-sized shrunken towels and tiny wells to soak them in are set down before us. They’re a novelty, a fun touch emblematic of the pains taken throughout the restaurant.
The Best of East and West
We start with locally-sourced sushi; as tempting as the varieties of Japanese fish look, they’re too rich for my budget. The tekka maki (VND75,000) is good, but with too much wasabi. The chawanmushi (VND75,000) is lighter than air, laced with mushroom and fish.
From the specials menu, we order the hotate foie gras roll (VND185,000) served with slices of miso-marinated pate lavishly piled atop the delicate, enchanting, silken scallops. Paired with wagyu ninniku shoyu (VND395,000), they showcase Japanese interpretations of Europe’s hautest foods. Marbled with threads of fat, the tender leaves of beef linger in the mouth.
The star of the night is the sashimi salad (VND250,000), a garden of lightly-dressed lettuce, jewelled with salmon, yellow-tail tuna, octopus and more. Fresh, crisp in every bite, the salad masterfully weds different cuisines.
The omakase 10-piece skewer (VND480,000) comes last, a platter of grilled, well, everything: shiitake, salmon, wagyu beef, chicken, pork belly, tofu, and more. Savouring every succulent bite, the volume of food defeats us and we get a box — thankfully, I love leftovers for breakfast.
For dessert, we choose mango anmitsu (VND160,000), matcha and ginger-vanilla ice cream over cubed agar and mango, with a pot of startlingly sweet black honey. My sole wish is less agar, more mango.
99 Bottles of Sake on the Wall
Decorated in a simple, modernised Japanese style — complete with rock garden, bamboo stands and bonsai — Sorae is deliberately gorgeous without being pretentious. The massive bamboo bar-shelves display ranks of illustrated sake bottles. The gracefully sturdy furniture and carefully chosen objets d’art are as harmonious as the view from the floor-to-ceiling windows.
We linger over our tea, appreciating our sojourn amid the finer things. We descend to the real world in sated silence, happily buzzing from food, liquor, the rarified atmosphere, the beautiful view.
Sorae is not light on the wallet, but well worth trying. It’s a fantastic destination for birthdays, anniversaries, engagements, baby showers, Valentine’s Day: occasions when price isn’t a consideration. Even on ordinary occasions, Sorae’s opulent atmosphere and beautiful decor offer a great spot to stop, sit, sip on hot sake, and let the world spin on without you for a few timeless hours.
Sorae is open from 11.30am to 2pm and 5.30pm to 2am, and is located in the AB Building, Floors 24 and 25, 76A 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