Since the day I landed in Ho Chi Minh City, everyone’s been telling me I have to check out this really good Vietnamese restaurant that’s become trendy since Brad and Angelina ate there once. The wait wasn’t long: my aunt took me on day 4 of my stay, promising me some authentic and delicious Vietnamese food. I couldn’t say no to that.
The place deserves its praise. The founder of Cuc Gach is an architect who used his grandmother’s shopping stall in the country as inspiration for his restaurant. And it renders well: a lot of vintage decoration, old style wooden furniture and delicate traditional details, all done with a lot of taste, to my taste.
_____________________________________________________ As you walk in, or should I say, slip through the really small entrance door, you’re welcomed by typically friendly Vietnamese staff and are sat at your table. You can then get up and help yourself to some unlimited Vietnamese pop corn while you and your party decide on what you’re going to eat.
You know you’re with someone who knows the place when they don’t even open the menu and just order what you’re going to like. That was my aunt: red rice, caramel pork, banana blossom salad, crispy fried tofu and passion fruit fish.
Our drinks arrived. Now this place is not only trendy and good on the eyes, it’s also eco-friendly so no plastic in sight, bottle lids are made of banana leaf and you sip your drink out of a thick stalk.
___________________All our dishes arrived on a golden tray, as tradition called, smelling like heaven. My aunt really is the perfect partner to go to the restaurant with: she’s my food stylist and does not care how long it takes me to shoot the food!
___________________Seriously people, our tofu in Europe isn’t good. Let’s stop lying to ourselves, shall we? I usually don’t eat it: the texture isn’t there, neither is the flavour. But oh my… the tofu here has nothing to do with our bland weird white carton cr*p! It melts in your mouth, and it tastes amazing. Imagine it deep fat fried crispy and dipped in soy sauce, you know what I’m saying?
I’m always a sucker for Banana blossom salad so nothing new on that…
Pork and fish were full of flavour, especially the pork (I’ve always been more of a carnivore than a pescatarian… – a word that autocorrect doesn’t recognize btw, it’s a sign!).
Dessert: Vietnam isn’t like France. Our repertoire of dessert and sweet things here doesn’t go on and on as what you can find in Parisian boulangeries and tea rooms. If you don’t eat Vietnamese food often then you won’t know this dessert, but you MUST try it if you ever set foot in my maternal country: Che. It’s a type of dessert with many variations… bean based. No, not like the canned beans we buy at Tesco for less than 1£. Che is made from hard beans, soaked in water and then sweetened with sugar. You can have red bean che, black bean che, soybean che. My favourite is lotus seed che… It’s always served on ice, and is one of the most refreshing treats you will ever have after a filling meal like the one we had. The amount of sweetness is very light so you can still taste the bean and have a satisfied sweet tooth.
If you go to Cục Gạch Quán for a late lunch, then you’ll be able to take a tour of the restaurant, as it’ll be practically empty. I absolutely fell in love with the attention to details, from the old oil lamps, to the game of finding the matching chopsticks which is deeply anchored in Vietnamese childhood memories.
Bottom line is: I’d go back, because the food was good, but mostly because I loved the restaurant itself and definitely need to check out the atmosphere in the evening. However, I would never replace this for a more authentic experience at a less picture worthy restaurant that serves just as good food if not better, for much cheaper, and where regular people from Saigon like to go eat for breakfast, lunch or dinner (to be continued…). At the end of the day, Vietnamese cuisine is about humble ingredients, comforting cooking and it isn’t meant to be fancy.
Here’s their website: http://www.cucgachquan.com.vn/en
As I said, book if you want to go in the evening. You’ll get to say you ate where Bradjolie went!
Price range: expensive compared to your average Saigon restaurant