This southern-and-central Vietnamese restaurant is decorated with the personal touch of its owners.
Offering a surprisingly homey escape in Sukhumvit Soi 49’s buzzing Piman 49 complex, Saigon Recipe serves up a compact menu of southern and central Vietnamese dishes. Spread over three floors, the restaurant is a gorgeous throwback to an Indochinese version of Vietnam, marked by vividly colored Hoi An lanterns, communist propaganda posters and wooden cabinets. Freshly cut flowers, a vintage soundtrack and Vietnamese tartan-style napkins complete this perfect postcard.
The food keeps up the photogenic theme: classics like pho (B160) and nam nueng (charcoal grilled meat balls served with rice paper and vegetables, B200) are colorfully plated up on ceramic tableware. Whatever you order, you’re guaranteed to land a big selection of greens—bean sprouts, lettuce, cucumber, basil—on the side, but we feel some dishes don’t quite make the most of these fresh ingredients.
The goi gà tron hoa chuoi (B240), banana flower salad with chicken and shrimp rice crackers, for instance, is let down by insufficient dressing. Lacking in zest and in need of a herby basil hit, the shredded banana flower becomes heavy going. The bún cha (grilled pork and noodle salad, B200), too, could do with more exciting flavors. While the fatty pork is nice and juicy and the fried spring rolls flavorful, the dipping broth doesn’t quite get the right mix of salty, sweet and sour, leaving you with a big bowl of aromatic but rather bland noodles.
Some dishes are an unmitigated success, like the bánh cuon (B220), steamed rice crepes stuffed with tasty ground pork, minced shrimp and wood ear mushroom, which features a delightful interplay of textures between the smooth, silky sheets and the crispy onion topping.
Other offerings almost attain these heights, such as the cha giò hai san (B220), fried shrimp spring rolls with mushroom and taro, which are wonderfully crunchy on the outside, flavor-packed inside. The dish is only let down by an overly sweet and creamy dipping sauce. It’s a similar case with the fresh spring rolls with shrimp and pork (B120/2 pieces), which come with a peanut-based sauce that doesn’t taste particularly homemade, and could really do with a little chili.
While the freshness of the ingredients is never in doubt, and the dishes all very easy on the palate, the kitchen here, run by a Japanese-Vietnamese couple and staffed by Vietnamese cooks, seems to cater to local tastes (read: sweetness). Though not the most exciting take on the cuisine in town, Saigon Recipe still offers plenty of retro charm; perhaps best enjoyed with a Vietnamese drip coffee (B70-90).