Photo by Kyle Phanroy 

Unless you were craving Korean food, there haven’t been many reasons to dine down in District 7. However, in the last few months, a high-quality Italian restaurant has slowly made local converts and is poised to gain wider attention.

 

VIII Re (“Ottavo Re”) is Chef Roberto Mancini’s labour of love after a career spent cooking for five-star hotels across Asia. Opened in September 2015, VIII Re serves classically authentic Italian food made almost entirely from ingredients imported from Italy.

 

If You Can Eat It, You Can Cook It

 

Housed in a spacious open-fronted building that resembles a Classical temple, the restaurant follows an unusual principle in its operation; if you can order it, you can buy the ingredients to make it. In a miniature butcher’s case next to the grill, home chefs can purchase prime beef at quite reasonable prices, as well as cheese, cold cuts and high-quality pasta.

 

The restaurant boasts a wine list that covers Italy from the boot heel to the Alps. Housed in a glass-walled walk-in, customers are welcome to browse the whites, reds, rosés and bubblies — and to buy a bottle to take home.

 

A small bar carries the essentials, but you won’t find elaborate cocktails; VIII Re is all about the vino and the vittles.

Photo by Kyle Phanroy 

Just Like Nonna Made It

 

And what vittles they are. Start with some antipasto, like the antipasto all’Italiana (VND298,000), a board loaded with cold cuts, cheese, olives and marinated vegetables. While you won’t find minestrone on the menu, try the zuppa di crema di funghi (VND98,000), a cream of mushroom soup made with truffles.

 

Moving on to the primi piatti, VIII Re serves all the mainstay pastas; bolognese (VND179,000), carbonara (VND179,000) and puttanesca (VND178,000) and more, as well as a half-dozen seafood-based pastas.

 

For something traditional but less well-known, try the pappardelle alla vaccinara (VND188,000), a speciality from Chef Roberto’s hometown. This is an aromatic slow-cooked oxtail ragout with paper-thin celery slices over home-made egg noodles.

 

The pizza menu is extensive. Some highlights are the porchetta (VND178,000), made with sheer slices of roasted pork, the diavola (VND159,000), topped with spicy sausage, and the funghi e salciccia (VND148,000) whose toppings include mushrooms and home-made pork sausage. The real winner is the prosciutto e buffala (VND238,000). Though a touch more expensive, the buffalo mozzarella, shaved Parmesan cheese and imported Parma ham more than justify the cost.

Photo by Kyle Phanroy 

Una Grigliata Mista

 

If you’re in the mood for something else, the secondi menu is impressive, with a wide selection of grilled meat and seafood. A personal favorite is the pollo ruspante (VND188,000), a nicely marinated and grilled half-chicken. Real carnivores can also choose from four cuts of USDA Prime, Angus or Mulwarra beef, in portions from 100 grams and up.

 

If you still have room, desserts include the crema catalana (VND99,000) or the tiramisu tradizionale (VND125,000), some of the best, most authentic I’ve had in Ho Chi Minh City.

 

Since I first learned of VIII Re last autumn, I’ve eaten there at least once a month. Whenever I get a craving for Italian food that tastes like it does in Rome or Naples, this is where I head

 

VIII Re is located at R432 Le Van Thiem, Phu My Hung, Q7, HCMC or online at ottavore.com

Photo by Kyle Phanroy

Owen Salisbury

Owen Salisbury is a fairly typical example of Homo Expatrius. Originally from California, he moved to Vietnam in 2011. He loves to write, take photos, travel, eat well, and learn.

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