Saigon Saigon is high end dining Vietnamese style but the glamour of the restaurant is no threat to either authenticity or wallet.
Taking its name from one of Vietnam’s biggest cities, Saigon Saigon blends rustic Vietnamese dishes and a sleek metropolitan style. The relaxed yet vibrant atmosphere is fitting of its location on the border of busy Hammersmith and more genteel Chiswick. Along with the ground-floor restaurant, there is a downstairs bar area and, during the warmer months, there is outside seating available on the wide pavements at the quiet end of bustling King Street.
Entering the restaurant and turning the corner past the bamboo screens, diners are transported to an Asia of old. Polished wood floors, dark wood furniture, Buddha statues and elaborate wooden carvings evoke ideas of colonialism, nostalgia and regality. Staff standing on hand ready to guide are warm, welcoming and eager to explain and recommend from the extensive menu. Down below, a bar area continues in the same vein but ups the ambience with spot lighting whilst several small alcoves create a quirky style and offer intimate seating for pre- or post-meal drinks – an area which is handy at weekends when the restaurant is undoubtedly busy.
As is usual of Vietnamese restaurants, Saigon Saigon’s menu is vast and somewhat confusing. Prawn crackers (£1.80 for a basketful), which are homemade, crisp and full of shrimp flavour, sustain whilst browsing the menu. Starters include perfectly made classics such as Vietnamese spring rolls and sesame prawn on French toast (both £4.95) along with a whole host of Vietnamese soups. Interesting additions which raise Saigon Saigon above your average Vietnamese joint include: char grilled quails marinated with honey, minced garlic and five spice (£8.95), which are succulent and aromatic; crispy soft shell crab with garlic, cut chilli and sea salt (about £6), which are juicy beneath their crisp exterior and explode in the mouth; and char grilled prawn meat wrapped on sugar cane served with rice paper and vegetables (£8.50) which is a meal in itself consisting of exceedingly meaty minced prawn sweet from being cooked on sugar cane, salad, dipping sauce and rice paper in which to wrap it up in – easily enough for two to start.
All the usual rice, curry and noodle dishes are available for mains in numerous variations but the house specialty has to be the Steamboat. This brings a plate of raw meat, seafood and vegetables to the table along with a simmering pot of stock on a gas burner in which to cook it. A pot and a very generous serving of meat and seafood is good value at £19.95 for two people and includes pork, several different cuts of beef, prawns, pak choi, carrot and mange tout. A soy dipping sauce and plenty of fresh egg noodles are also provided as accompaniments. The stock itself is rich and slightly spicy with a pleasant saltiness from the addition of fish sauce – perfect for adding flavour to the raw ingredients and noodles. The Steamboat is, apparently, a traditional party food – a kind of Vietnamese fondue - and certainly makes for a fun and unique meal.
A large wine menu offers selections from all corners of the new and old wine world. The highlight has to be a Vietnamese rice wine (£3.80 for a small glass) which comes in a shot measure and is served just slightly warm. The rice flavour predominates over the hit of the alcohol with a taste reminiscent of a creamy rice pudding. Another authentic option is the Saigon Export beer (£3.60 per bottle) which is dark and malty tasting, more like an ale than other Asian lagers.
The Last Word
Saigon Saigon serves elegantly presented Vietnamese specialties in classy surroundings, bringing a touch of Eastern colonial charm to Western London. The Steamboat is a must-try.