One of Saigon’s best known Vietnamese restaurant chains, Quan Bui is garnering a reputation. But is it deserved? Our mystery diner finds out. Photos by Rodney Hughes
In Saigon, Quan Bui is a force on the restaurant scene with four locations, each offering the same consistent quality and style. In April, District 2 was lucky enough to get its first Quan Bui location off Thao Dien, opposite An Phu Superior Compound.
As with many classic Saigon establishments, you can’t gauge the size of Quan Bui Garden from the entrance alone, but once you enter the garden you find yourself immersed in an oasis of tall, lush greenery. The décor of the Thao Dien location is trendy while maintaining a traditional Vietnamese motif throughout. The large garden even has a playground for younger foodies, making it an attractive spot for a family meal out.
On our lunchtime visit, the place was packed with young Vietnamese professionals on their lunch breaks enjoying fragrant meals. The menu is a hearty 20 pages long and filled with every possible dish you could want to order from a Vietnamese restaurant; lists of rice, noodles, soups and BBQ.
We took our ordering inspiration from the Chef’s Recommendations and set menus to help keep the process simple and in order to sample the Quan Bui versions of Vietnamese classics.
Our first selection of the day was the Southern Sun Set Brunch Menu (VND223,000) which comes with two mini banh xeo, a filling bowl of bun thit nuong and ca phe sua da. This combo alone was enough for one person.
The banh xeo were sized for individual consumption, but this smaller size meant they were denser than the usual sharing crepe you expect. Bun thit nuong, a classic combination of Vietnamese flavours, was well executed and large enough to satisfy the appetite all day. I commandeered the lightly sweetened (aka, just a hint a condensed milk) ca phe sua da, while my companion ordered the West Indian cherry juice, so ri ep (VND69,000). The cherry juice was tart and refreshing, a first for us both, and exceeded our expectations.
We continued to sample the Chef’s Recommendations with the soft shell crab with tamarind sauce, or cua lot chien gion xot me (VND259,000) served up with fresh herbs and lettuce. The sweet tamarind sauce and crunch of the soft shell crab made each mouthful a sensory delight. There was not a morsel left of this dish by the time we were finished.
The tangy tiger prawn soup with jasmine flowers, canh chua tom va bong thien ly (VND149,000) another item from the Chef’s Recommendations, was a simple and interesting dish although the broth was too sweet for our palates. Still, this was remedied with the simple addition of some extra salt. The aroma of the broth was spectacular, and this is a dish worth sampling for some juicy shrimp, and for the special texture and flavour from the jasmine flower.
When trying Vietnamese cuisine you need to see what the establishment does in terms of side dishes and appetizers as well. So we also ordered the fried veggie spring rolls, cha gio chay (VND79,000), stir fried morning glory with garlic, rau muong xao toi (VND59,000), and steamed rice, com trang (VND20,000). Each of these dishes were done well and in keeping with the high quality of food at the restaurant, and the essence of traditional Vietnamese food. The spring rolls were crisp and tasty, while the morning glory offered up the healthy vegetable in an enticing way. The steamed rice was a necessary order with the soft shell crab.
We ended the meal with the passion fruit mousse, banh kem sua chanh day (VND49,000), a delightful dessert served in a passion fruit husk and light enough to share at the end of a gigantic meal. The mousse was creamy without being too sweet or rich, using the natural sugars and flavours of the passion fruit.
Overall, the experience at Quan Bui Garden was exceptional; though the lunch service was busy, once we had ordered our food came at lightning speed, and we managed to eat enough for a small army in less than an hour for a total of VND907,000.
Though you can find versions of these classic dishes at street vendors, what Quan Bui manages to offer is a venue where you can sample all of these dishes in one place, for a comfortable price with a consistent quality of service and food.
Quan Bui Garden is located at 55 Ngo Quang Huy, Q2, Ho Chi Minh City. To make a reservation, or for more information, call (08) 3898 9088
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