Three female chefs carefully cut skins off pieces of salmon for later frying, patting down sticky rice and throwing an occasional soft comment to one another. Behind them, glass shelves hold a collection of Japanese sakes stretching to the ceiling, where large mesh clouds float immovably. The city outside is a vast expanse of dots and high-rises.
The black-and-red accented walls and fixtures, the feng shui bamboo, the granite tabletop surfaces, the metallic mesh. They’re all, to put it simply, cool.
You walk around Sorae and think:
This is where James Bond comes for his Saketini.
The Saketini (VND150,000) is the restaurant’s signature cocktail – one of several select sake concoctions that are unique to Sorae. It’s mixed with the house sake (Sorae Deluxe) along with raspberry vodka and watermelon juice, and garnished with daikon radish. It’s subtle, not overly sweet, and a decent side sipper.
Sorae kept mum on the interior designer’s name. Apparently they wanted to stay anonymous.
Whoever they were, they must have had Dr. No’s opening scene playing in the background during their brainstorming sessions. The place is undeniably smooth, precisely composed to seem almost organic, ready to seduce passerby with its deadly look.
A potted bonsai, winding staircase and cascading three-tiered waterfall greet you at the entrance. A Japanese-speaking hostess takes you to your seat. Attention is in the details, from the handmade ceramic bowls and cups with tiny imperfections to the compressed hand towels that expand in water.
The first floor seats 163, and includes a Yakitori and beer bar, chef’s table, sushi bar, separate sake bar and a collection of themed private rooms.
The black and bamboo accent is so sleek it hurts, especially come night when the city’s lit and the wall-mounted candles aglow.
The second floor houses the cigar club, where you are free to pick out your choice of Cuban and armchair and lounge about to your heart’s content. The whiskey and wine displays are not too far off, ready for admiration and taste testing.
The beer bar actually has a few decent Belgian brews on tap – Leffe Blonde and Leffe Brown, which you don’t see in too many bars around Vietnam.
More impressive is the extensive sake, wine and whiskey selection, and the care that goes into doling out each sip.
Here’s what their drink menu had to say about ice (yes, ice):
We know the importance of ice at Sorae. Our standard serve ice ball is hand made every day by our bartenders, using only local natural mineral water to create the purest possible ice.
Sorae has one of the best whiskey collections in Ho Chi Minh City. And they make sure their bartenders aren’t just aloofly pouring whatever the customer points at. Each bartender is trained in the heritage and style of every maker on the shelf. On Tuesday’s, you can even get behind the bar and pour your own whiskey (buy one make one free).
As if this wasn’t already a wet-dream for the fine drinking crowd, their sake list is as extensive as it gets in the city, and the drink menu (attached below this listing) has taste notes for every sake, wine and whiskey they have. Meticulous is an understatement.
We were served a modified set menu to sample some of Sorae’s most popular menu items. Here’s a breakdown of each dish:
Salad + Miso (VND50,000) + Chawan Mushi (VND75,000): The salad is fresh and the miso is standard, but the warm chawan mushi (a beaten-egg starter) was quite a surprise.
Bara Chirashi Sushi (VND180,000): As close to a sushi salad as you can get. Diced sashimi and a sweet omelet are piled atop sushi rice. Take this one slow and savor the fresh fish with the rice below. For the amount of sashimi you get, the price is solid.
Sorae Tartar (VND180,000): Marinated sashimi with spicy sauce and crispy rice, with nori (seaweed) on the side. Besides the nori, which was a little chewy and not as brittle as we’d hoped (likely to help wrap around the tartar – but you’re better off just leaving it there) this was hands down our favorite bowl. The spicy sauce was mild, but with enough kick to add a nice flavor to the soft, marinated sashimi. The crispy rice added some nice contrast and the whole setup got us addicted. Hail tartar.
Kushiyakidon (VND220,000): The skewers here are served with the salad, miso and chawan mushi sides, so this is probably the best bet for getting your belly full. The skewers consist of mushrooms, vegetables, meat and bacon-wrapped bitter melon, served with warm rice and a fried egg. The yolk and warm rice are quite heavy – add the skewers and you might not be able to have too much room for the tartar. Share this one or enjoy it on an empty stomach.
Mango Sorbet (VND55,000): A bit watery, and thus melts too quickly in your mouth to really appreciate the fresh mango used. We would have chosen a more substantial desert to top off our full bellies, but if you’re not craving more than a scoop, the mango sorbet will do.
TripAdvisor reviewers are surprised Sorae hasn’t gotten as much attention as it deserves. Universal praise goes out to the décor and drink selection, which seems to be shaping up second to none in Ho Chi Minh City. Compliments were given all around for the stunning city view and impeccable service. Food, for the most part, is highly regarded, with some even attesting this to be the best Japanese cuisine in the city. At the time of this writing, Sorae holds a 4.5 rating on TripAdvisor with 37 reviews.