The work of Thai Tu Tho, a French-born Vietnamese restaurateur, the theme at May is to bring back the Saigon cuisine of the past — lost recipes, vanished cooking styles, natural flavours and long-gone ingredients. The concept has been used at the well-known Cuc Gach Quan, of which Tu Tho was a co-founder, and such is her conviction of its merits that with the aid of her father she has brought it to her present carnation on the edge of District 1. It means no MSG, and no processed foods — as much as possible is processed on-site — and free-range meats purchased directly from the farm.
Served in an atmosphere of high, French patisserie-style adorned ceilings, wooden floors, one-colour painted walls, dark wood tables and chairs and a range of antique-like oddities decorating the walls, the cuisine at the year-old restaurant has already garnered a following. Take the pickled cabbage soup with pork riblets (VND75,000). A variation on a dish typically found in home cooking but rarely discovered in restaurants, the version at May mixes a canh chua-style broth with the vinegary cabbage and the softness of the ribs. It’s an unusual combination, but tasty nonetheless.
The clay pot pork with egg (VND95,000) is equally accomplished. One of those ubiquitous dishes seemingly available at every eatery, it comes in varying levels of quality. Here the quality — displayed by the tenderness of the meat and the richness of the sauce — is on the top end of the scale. Likewise the heart of palm and water lily salad with chicken (VND80,000) is also sitting in that higher echelon, each of the ingredients, from the water lily stems to the carrots, chicken to heart of palm have a different level of texture and crunch. Crisp, tasty and easy on the palate, when you eat this dish the natural flavours really come to the fore, making you realise how much MSG is used in similar salads elsewhere.
Top of the taste stakes, though, is the pink duck breast with ginger fish sauce (VND220,000). The word sensational comes to mind here. Like the best dishes at May, this one is a mix of Vietnamese and French — the duck breast is cooked pink and sliced as you would find it in France — making the skin crispy and meat tender, while the mounds of fish-sauce infused ginger ooze with flavour. — Nick Ross