We take our seats at the customary teppan (iron grill) table alongside half a dozen diners. Though sitting with strangers while dining out would usually be uncomfortable, the teppanyaki experience deems it a prerequisite.
Any awkwardness quickly dissipates as the chefs begin exhibiting the type of flair and showmanship traditionally associated with teppanyaki-style live cooking. Shrimp tails and are tossed skyward and caught in shirt pockets and hats, flattened food pieces are propelled across the room into diner’s mouths and utensils are expertly juggled at high speed. Eggs are launched into the air and split open with spatulas, and one chef even uses slight-of-hand and misdirection to set his wallet on fire with ‘water’.
It’s all rather impressive and mesmerising enough that it’s easy to forget that the actual food remains the headline attraction.
The menu is divided into two sections. One half offers a selection of local and imported seafood such as Boston lobster, snow crab and elephant trunk clams, which can be boiled or grilled either teppanyaki or charcoal style. The other half reveals a set menu that includes a mixed vegetable salad, tom yam goong soup, a mixed vegetable medley, garlic-fried rice, one non-alcoholic drink, an ice cream dessert and a main course of one’s choosing.
Ranging from VND525,000 to VND1,218,000, we opt from either end of the set menu spectrum, choosing the cheapest and one of the more expensive items; prawns with lemon garlic butter and Australian beef striploin with parsley garlic butter.
Each of the set menu’s components are served separately. First out is the Thai soup, which is surprisingly spicy, leaving a pronounced after-kick on the roof of my mouth. The stir-fried mixed vegetables amount to two morsels of broccoli, carrot, mushroom and podded peas each, per person. Though cooked excellently (the chef finding the right balance between crunchy and soft), and with a dollop of moorish garlic butter, it feels like we’re at a tasting event.
Luckily, the mains are more substantial. Six large prawns are de-shelled and de-tailed, cooked and diced in half, and served covered in melted cheese (via use of a blowtorch), spring onion and watercress. The amply sized striploin doesn’t receive the same decoration but is sliced thickly into multiple bite-sized cuts, with all of the fat trimmed off (an optional choice). I ask for the steak medium-rare and that’s exactly how it arrives.
Three different dipping sauces are spooned onto our plates (spring onion in soy, spicy mayonnaise and chilli), and turn out to be a welcome accompaniment as both mains lack umph despite being heavily seasoned with salt, white and black pepper, and cooked in more garlic butter. The garlic-fried rice also warrants more salt and, according to my fellow Vietnamese diner, is too oily, leaving her feeling slightly nauseous. I agree that it could do with a pinch more seasoning, but find its moist texture more than palatable.
With a choice of strawberry or coconut ice cream, we order one of each. The strawberry resembles and tastes like sorbet, while the fresh pieces of coconut are a treat amongst the creamy goodness.
In terms of price, there are certainly better and more affordable teppanyaki restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City. Vicki’s is also deliberately straying away from standard Japanese fare — it’s Singaporean-run and its chefs hail from Thailand. However, entertainment-wise, Vicki’s is a league above the rest and justifies the premium.
Prawns with lemon garlic butter (set meal) - VND525,000
Australian beef striploin with parsley garlic butter (set meal) - VND1,050,000
Décor : 10
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
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