Apr 24 2012
If you’re a food lover, then Saigon is a great spot to spend some time, with restaurants down every alley and on every street. You may, however, struggle to find in HCMC any variety in Southeast Asian cuisine. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of Vietnamese restaurants around town, but if you are looking for Cambodian or Thai food your options will be much more limited. Luckily, this problem is a step towards being solved with a new restaurant on the scene, Monsoon.
A five-minute walk from the main stretch of the Pham Ngu Lao area, Monsoon has a sleek facade of arched windows and is set off the street behind a well manicured lawn, standing in contrast to its rundown surrounds. The minimalist interior is equally chic and very clean. The furniture is modern and the walls boast a few pieces of art and the restaurant’s history wrought large in print.
Their menu of Southeast Asian cuisine is divided by country, giving you the chance to select from a handful of signature appetisers, mains and desserts from Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Burma and Laos. There is also a solid wine list, with the bottles displayed on the wall.
Monsoon is not necessarily fine dining — you won’t feel out of place in a pair of shorts — but it’s more upscale than other spots in town and certainly in the area. The food is really quite good; the pad thai here is one of the better in the city, where typically the dish comes served either extra bland or extra spicy. At Monsoon, they didn’t over do it, with the perfect amount of kick. They also didn’t overcook the prawns or drown the noodles with peanut dust.
Their smoothies were also amazing; I tried the strawberry cheesecake iteration and while it didn’t taste exactly like strawberry cheesecake, it was good to have a smoothie that was more natural and lighter on the added sugar than usual. The waitstaff are friendly and service generally top notch, though when it’s busier you may have to wait a little for attention.
As far as other international restaurants in Saigon are concerned, Monsoon stacks up quite nicely, and affordably, with most mains starting at around the 100,000 VND price-point. Although it’s close to the backpacker area, and the prices aren’t too high, they really cater more to those willing to spend in the midrange, and especially families with children as they have a second floor play area dedicated to kids.
By Pham Ngu Lao standards there is really nothing that compares to the style or quality of Monsoon, so if you can’t get a seat you really do have to head across District 1, say a 10-minute cab ride to Lemongrass or Xu, to find something comparable, albeit more expensive. If you’re looking for more Western or local food you’d probably be better off walking down Bui Vien, where restaurants are a dime a dozen, to find one of the better spots like Stella or the Spotted Cow.
1 Cao Ba Nha, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
T: (08) 6290 8899
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Tags: Monsoon restaurant