Peter Conish grazes his way through some shared plates at Fork Saigon. Photos by Romain Garrigue.
There is something socially comforting about the way the Vietnamese eat. The communal shared dishes, spread across the table to dip into as you choose. To eat until you can eat no more, and without the obligation of clearing plates the way Western mothers insisted on when I was growing up.
Tony Fox’s latest restaurant takes the idea of shared dishes to places they’ve never been before. No one else could come up with the idea of marmite mayonnaise on baked oysters (120,000VND). Tony calls this intimate style of eating “grazing”, an idea stumbled upon in New York years ago, and a culinary term coined by Antony Worrall Thompson at Ménage a Trois, London’s first grazing spot.
Tony created all the recipes at Fork, which is why there’s marmite mayonnaise on the menu along with an equally out-there black pudding scotch egg. Those tempted to try the unusual are well rewarded, the food is delicious and generous.
Fork Saigon is not a large restaurant. It seats 30 comfortably downstairs adding to the intimate experience of shared eating. The design is simplistic yet stylish. Bare brick walls and plain but comfortable seating keeps the focus on the beautifully-presented food. Music from the 60s and 70s plays quietly in the background and the staff are friendly and attentive without being intrusive. Large chalk boards suggest the constantly changing recommended specials. What’s there today may be gone tomorrow.
The tapas style of eating suggests a Spanish influence, and with dishes like chorizo and grilled red peppers (55,000VND) and pan con tomate with grated Manchego (55,000VND) that’s certainly the case. But the menu’s varied influence stretches further afield, with meat dishes including beef and pork meatballs with harissa sauce (105,000VND) and lamb koftas with mint yogurt sauce (165,000VND) taking us to other Mediterranean favourites. Add a Welsh lasagne with rarebit sauce to the specials board and you see Tony’s eclectic influence sneaking in again.
The menu offers a good choice of vegetable dishes making sure that vegetarians are catered for. A spicy tomato sauce served with crisp potatoes (75,000VND) is the patatas bravas of Spanish bodegas, and the fried eggplant drizzled in acacia honey (55,000VND) adds a sweet stickiness to accompanying dishes.
The stand out for me was the ricotta gnudi with brown butter and sage (VND115,00). Taking three days to prepare, the small gnocchi-like dumplings are stuffed with fresh ricotta instead of potato, then boiled and served with browned butter and a hint of sage. The chewy, pillow-like orbs ooze melted cheese as you bite in to them and soak up the nutty flavour of the butter making them irresistible.
A set lunch (190,000VND) is served from 11am till 3pm and happy hour runs from 4pm till 7pm with 50% off a selection of bottled beers and cocktails and 30% off red and white wine by the glass.