Fine Dining: Follow The Evolution of Fine Dining in Saigon

food - Saigon/HCMC: July 4, 2019

Gastronomic eateries, foodie concepts and gourmet restaurants in Saigon

There’s More to Fine Dining than Michelin

What classifies Fine Dining?

In 2016, Nielsen Holdings estimated that Vietnam’s middle class will boom to reach a population of 44 million by 2020 and 95 million by the year 2030, one of the fastest growth rates in Southeast Asia. Consequently, the desire for luxury goods has also risen starkly and this shift can be seen outside of the retail sector as well. There has been a rapid influx of F&B establishments catering to higher income individuals seeking the finer things in life, such as imported food products, wines and international service standards.

Street food and “family-style” cuisine will always be a part of the local food scene in Vietnam, especially since a lot of them are must visit unique restaurants in Saigon, but now, there is also a market for gastronomic eateries, foodie concepts and gourmet restaurants that adhere to European culinary arts standards. We sat down with Chef Thierry Mounon of La Villa French Restaurant to understand more about how contemporary demands for fine dining have transformed Saigon.

Fine Dining La Villa French Restaurant

Spoilt For Choice

“[There are] definitely more choices now,'' Chef Thierry said. When he opened La Villa French Restaurant in District 2 in 2010, there was not the same level of competition. Over the last several years, along with La Villa French Restaurant and Le Bordeaux, one of the founders of French fine dining in HCMC, other establishments such as L'Escale by Thierry Drapeau, Jardin du Sens by the Pourcel brothers and Le Corto run by Chef Sakal Phoeung, and other new restaurants in Saigon, have helped solidify the presence of French gastronomy in Saigon. Other European establishments such as R&J Italian Lounge and Restaurant, and Asian haute cuisine options like L’Aura de Nam Ky (Vietnamese) and Sushi Rei (Japanese) have also rounded out the scene. 5-star hotels such as Hotel des Arts Saigon have also contributed to the trend with culinary events at their F&B venues featuring world-class chefs.

Fine Dining La Villa French Restaurant

There’s More to Fine Dining than Michelin 

Chef Thierry Mounon spent his formative years working at Michelin-starred restaurants in southern France, London and Bora Bora. Although other top chefs in Saigon also have worked in two or three-star kitchens , the Michelin inspectors have yet to add any restaurant in Ho Chi Minh to their hallowed list. It is quite an undertaking to get the army of Michelin food inspectors into a host country for reviews; however, it is worth noting that excellence in cuisine can be attained without an entry in the guide, especially when chefs come to Vietnam with a star already on their CV. 

Fine Dining La Villa French Restaurant

“Many places are run by Michelin starred chefs now. There is more choice and more competition,” Chef Thierry said. “I like competition; it keeps me warm. People go to another place to try something new and return to me later.” 

Part of what makes clients return to La Villa French Restaurant, in Chef Thierry’s opinion, is identity. “We define ourselves [at La Villa] as classic, yet sophisticated. I cook what I love. My tastes were moulded by my childhood in the south of France. The key is in the techniques, the flavours, and pushing the borders of gastronomy without losing identity.” Chef Thierry even has a favourite hashtag to this effect: #classicforareason. 

True Fine Dining 

In true fine dining, the codes are important—the plating, the presentation of the courses, the ambience, and the training of staff. While a gastropub concept can be distinct and excellent in its own right, it is not characterized as fine dining per se, but just like the food scene in Saigon, this definition may be expanding. Saigon, as a culinary destination, is certainly going beyond the street food experience. Soon enough, foodies may be choosing from tiny plastic stools streetside or sitting in a Michelin starred restaurant-gourmet paradise. There’s room for a little bit of everything in this thriving foodtropolis.

Fine Dining La Villa French Restaurant

Image source: La Villa French Restaurant