Location is not everything, but sometimes, food is. Our undercover food reviewer heads to the recently refurbished yet slightly out-of-the-way Vesper Gourmet Lounge, and discovers a restaurant working at its very best. Photos by Glen Riley

 

If dining out is a voyage, then Vesper whisks you around the globe. Their audacious blend of Japanese, Spanish, Mexican, Italian, German, French and American cuisine shouldn’t work, yet my late-night supper at Vesper was one of the finest meals I’ve enjoyed in years. From service to decor to food (my god, the food...), the experience was a tour de force.

 

With its dark wood colour-scheme, sinuous bar top, chill soundtrack and communal tables, the lounge struck the ideal note of sociability and relaxation, a German tavern for 21st-century sophisticates. With a few ironic touches added in for measure.

 

Awaiting my date at the bar, I admired the liquor selection, especially the Scotches. Whimsically, I sampled a Cappuccino shooter (VND110,000), a gorgeous, layered concoction of cinnamon-dashed cream, Bailey’s and Kahlua. Drunk in one long pull, the swirl of flavours flood the mouth, each taste peaking before blending harmoniously. I’d return for that alone.

 

Exploring the World

My date arrived; servers ushered us behind a wood-and-glass partition into the cosily intimate dining room. The crimson stuffed chairs sit one comfortably, yet without requiring struggle to reach the table.

 

Ordering required detailed exploration of Vesper’s imaginative menu. For maximum variety, we seized upon on a daily special that should be a regular offering, the mixed grill for two (VND550,000). For sides, we chose a small rigatoni alla Buttera (VND110,000) and spinach spaetzle (VND90,000). To drink, we selected glasses of house red — the deep, velvety Mas Petit garnatxa — and house white, the Torresella pinot grigio (VND150,000 each). It was mellow and refreshingly fruity.

 

One Bite at a Time

 

One test of a menu is that most combinations of dishes should work. Vesper aced it. Everything fit in a symphony of flavours.

 

The mixed grill crowned the meal, with two servings apiece of Wagyu strip steak, Australian tenderloin, chicken-breast skewers, lamb chops and German sausages piled on a wooden board. Served with twin cylinders of chilled Cafe de Paris, garnished with rosemary, the meats displayed Vesper’s skill in picking the best from around the world.

 

Every piece of meat was flavourful, juicy, grilled to perfection. The dense taste and texture of the Wagyu and the soft, gentle tenderloin (both dry-aged, like all of Vesper’s steaks) demonstrated the vast range that good red beef can have. The touch of red pepper on the chicken underscored its delicacy, and the lamb was a mouth-watering revelation.

 

The spinach spaetzle, sprinkled with crispy shallots, seduced my tastebuds with its whirl of cream and tangy cheese. The rigatoni, served with peas and hearty chunks of Italian sausage, brought back my visits to Italy — the al dente pasta, the sauce alive with sweet, acidic tomato and fresh herbs.

 

We concluded with apple strudel in filo dough, a clever twist on a classic dessert. The divine vanilla sauce and hand-whipped cream provided a cool backdrop to the crispy dough and hot, spiced apples.

 

The simple ceramic bowls and minimalist plating focused attention on the food itself.

 

Leading the Way

Speaking as a former waiter, Vesper’s service staff excels at providing the customer (me, in this case) with exactly what they want. Chatty and engaged while I waited for my date, friendly, full of helpful suggestions, swift and unobtrusive, their actions set a standard for other restaurants to follow.

 

The restaurant manager led by example; he strolled from table to table, laughing, suggesting, taking pictures with customers, passing out banana daiquiri samples, treating everyone like an honoured guest.

 

From early till late, whatever cuisine you prefer, whatever your tastes, Vesper presents it with a warm smile and a comfy seat.

 

Open Monday to Saturday from 10am to midnight, Vesper is located in the Landmark Building, 5B, Ton Duc Thang, Q1, Ho Chi Minh City


 

The Verdict

 

Food: 15

 

Service: 15

 

Décor: 13

 

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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