The problem with French food is that it’s just so good. If you’re cutting out carbs or restricting fats, I recommend you avoid this country’s cuisine altogether. On the other hand, what’s life without the good bits?
Le Terroir easily qualifies as a good bit. It’s another French-style eatery attempting to give the Refineries and Papagayos a run for their money, by serving up classic French food in a relaxed, speakeasy-ish atmosphere. Open since February, its unassuming frontage is tucked away on Thai Van Lung, but it’s very much in the heart of Saigon’s restaurant district.
When you get there you’re likely to meet restaurateur Eric Van Latenstein (just call him Eric), an ex-professional golfer — and still a daily player — who’ll happily show you around his two-storey bistro. Bathed in natural light, its rustic but comfortable modern furniture and classic timber finishes quickly put you at ease, transporting you away from the hustle of Saigon’s streets.
Excited that we were visiting his new enterprise — he also runs two wine bars — Eric made me feel right at home. Sipping French sémillon at the long bar as I waited for photographer Kyle to arrive, I definitely had some ‘I could be happy here’ vibes going on.
When I hear ‘French restaurant’, like a lot of people, I still get worried that it might be some kind of intimidating cultural experience. Is my palate qualified enough to eat here?
On that note you can relax, because Le Terroir doesn’t pretend to be five-star, and nor does it need to be. The bistro-style food is accomplished and delicious, and the surroundings are top notch — but it’s also down to earth and unpretentious. These are classic French dishes done very very well. From the bar menu I couldn’t resist trying both the croque monsieur (VND155,000) in all its cheese, ham and béchamel-sauced glory, next to the yummy gratinated onion soup (VND105,000), in what must have been an unconscious attempt to forget that it was 38 degrees outside. I followed that up with the bouchée à la reine duo (VND105,000), a signature item Eric insisted we try. Moving onto the mains I got trigger happy, because out came the duck salad (VND145,000) and the filet mignon pork (VND195,000). The grain mustard sauce on this almost had me dipping everything I owned into it, and was beautifully matched with another glass of that smooth sémillon.
Satisfied that our work was done, we were ready to say our thank you’s and go home. Not on Eric’s watch. Out came one of the best chocolate mousses (VND85,000) I’ve ever had. If you only have time for one thing, this mousse might just be it. This was expertly paired with the Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise, a gem from Eric’s cellar.
Full to the brim, a complimentary espresso was in order — a freebie Eric says is part and parcel of the way he likes to do things. So just to get this straight: he has a great restaurant, owns a huge room full of wine, gives out free coffee, and loves golf? I may have just met my new best friend. — Jon Aspin
Le Terroir is at 30 Thai Van Lung, Q1, HCMC