Barbara Adam uncovers Atelier Des Reves, a stylish corner of Saigon with an adorable history. Photos by Angeli Castillo.
Thao and Lucas are living their very own modern Vietnamese fairytale in a quiet alley in District 3, which they call their “Workshop of Dreams”.
In this storybook romance, Thao is the queen of the kitchen, while King Lucas cares for their loyal subjects, which is everyone who walks through the door of Atelier Des Reves.
The young Vietnamese couple knew each other vaguely before they enrolled at the Ecole Internationale Maxim’s de Paris. But it was there, in the French capital of gastronomy, Lyon, where they fell in love and began dreaming of the restaurant they would open together in the future.
For the 10 years they studied, lived and worked in France, Thao and Lucas learned as much as they could about French cuisine, culture, wine, music and decor. They even began buying knicknacks for their restaurant.
The years of planning and dreaming have resulted in an oasis of calm. Blonde wood, linen placemats, whitewashed walls, bamboo light fittings and a lot of space between tables.
Thao designed an open kitchen so she can welcome people as they arrive and say goodbye to them when they leave. And Lucas only takes bookings for 20 customers for dinner and 10 for lunch.
“We want to be able to take care of everyone properly,” Lucas said. “If we take more than 20 people, we won’t be able to do that.”
Thao and Lucas’ unique dedication to the craft of hospitality is reflected in the number of regular customers they have. And, of course, Thao’s creativity in the kitchen.
Atelier Des Reves menu changes every few months, so their regulars don’t get bored. There are also a range of set menus, one for lunch and three for dinner.
“My cooking is very light,” Thao said, as she spooned a delicious citrusy gravy on a slice of seared duck. “That’s my secret!”
I do believe Thao has a few more secrets than just “light” cooking. She presented the AsiaLIFE team with a series of beautifully-plated dishes, and each one tasted as good as it looked.
We started with an appetizer of grilled asparagus, quail egg and Arenhka caviar (VND285,000), which looked like a little village on a plate, decorated with parsley cream, flowers, microgreens and delicate slices of crouton.
The scalloped scallops with cuttlefish ink risotto (VND395,000) was a work of fine art, topped with a wave of foamy beurre de nage and a sprinkle of tiny violas.
The pan-seared duck breast (VND355,000) was served on a vibrant (and deliciously buttery) smear of smoked carrot puree, cumquat slices and the aforementioned gravy.
This symphony of a meal ended with a very decadent baba au rhum with Chantilly cream (VND175,000), topped with fresh Dalat strawberries.
When we oohed and ahhed over the rhum syrup, Queen Thao whipped back into the kitchen to fetch us some more.
Long live Thao and Lucas, culinary royalty. Long may they reign.