Aesthetically, Zest is unlike any restaurant I’ve encountered in Saigon; a cross between a North American industrial warehouse (whitewashed breezeblocks, metal support beams and pillars, high ceilings) and a Scandinavian villa (wooden slats), making for an extremely open, cool and airy atmosphere. The wry foodie twist applied to the propaganda-style poster artwork painted onto the walls is equally unique, adding a slight kitschy feel to the surrounds.

 

We order dishes from both the extensive main menu that runs throughout the day and the more condensed evening-only dinner menu. Upon request our appetisers (taken from the latter) and mains arrive simultaneously and promptly. We start with the crispy spicy tuna sushi rolls and steak sashimi with sweet wasabi sauce.

 

Both are exquisite, and make the biggest and best impression of the night. The half dozen tuna rolls come encased in a soft, neutral-tasting batter that allows the freshness of the fish to really shine through, while the delicate, paper-thin beef carpaccio-style slices are cooked to a mouth wateringly perfect, medium-rare. Its natural flavour is beautiful, however, once dipped in the accompanying dark wasabi infused liquid, this dish becomes immense, enlivening the nostrils with a potent yet enjoyable fiery rush.

 

Our mains consist of beef goulash and a croque madame. While warm, thick and hearty, I find the former’s beef a tad too chewy. Served with rice to provide an Asian twist on this European staple, the sauce is rich and the mixed peppers possess the right amount of crunch, however, for me, this dish lacks the wow factor of the appetisers. It’s good, but not exceptional.

 

Likewise, the French-style sandwich, served with delicious golden thin cut French fries, has a lot going for it, from the wonderfully fresh-tasting salad and vegetable filling and lightly toasted bread to the deliciously creamy yolk of the fried egg. However, the lack of the advertised béchamel sauce (a vital component) stops this sandwich from achieving true greatness.

 

That said, the desserts are spectacular. Served in a martini glass, the affogato (Italian for “drowned”) is a coffee-based beverage with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream topped with a shot of hot espresso. It’s strong yet silky and should be an instant hit with coffee lovers. Now, the following assertion may be met with scepticism, but Zest’s chocolate fudge brownie could easily be the best in town. Its dense consistency and almost pudding-soft texture is neither too rich nor too sweet and it literally melts in your mouth. The portion isn’t large, but as the saying goes “keep them wanting more”.

 

The Prices

 

Tuna rolls VND88,000

 

Steak sashimi VND105,000

 

Beef goulash VND125,000

 

Croque madame VND88,000

 

Affogato VND65,000

 

Chocolate fudge brownie VND66,000

 

The Verdict

 

Food: 10.5

 

Service: 12

 

Décor: 11

 

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

 

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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