Simon Stanley samples the fine-dining, farm-to-table scene of America’s Pacific Northwest. Photos by Vinh Dao.
When Jane Nguyen and Michael Rose relocated to Saigon, they initially struggled to find restaurants that shared their clean-eating, homemade philosophies. “We’re from Portland, Oregon,” says Nguyen, “so farm-to-table is what we’re used to.”
With 15 years of restaurant experience behind her, and with Rose’s high-end culinary credentials (he’d previously been the sous-chef at the Portland Marriott), the pair opened Jane’s Bistro in 2015. “We wanted to bring this new concept to Ho Chi Minh City,” says Nguyen, adding that with only a handful of seats and a maximum of 20 covers per day, they really are a ‘bistro’.
While the focus is on fine-dining, the atmosphere is cosy and welcoming, and the soundtrack an unobtrusive playlist of jazz. It’s informal and refreshingly laid-back. “This is our home, and our kitchen,” says Nguyen, who treats her guests like old friends rather than customers.
Rose’s seasonal, modern American-Italian menu boasts a range of organic homemade pastas (priced from VND175,000 to VND210,000), alongside an equally impressive (and well-sourced) list of salads, soups, meats and freshly-caught seafood.
We begin with a carrot cappuccino soup (VND90,000), served with a minty foam topping. The flavour is unbelievable, almost fruity, with a rich silken texture. Next comes an organic quinoa and cauliflower salad (VND210,000). Like many of their ingredients, the quinoa was carried in their own luggage on the return flight from Oregon. “Our regular guests know that we close down for a week or so every five or six months to get fresh supplies,” explains Nguyen.
Exploding with the vibrant colours of fresh beets and sakura plums, the quinoa is accompanied by grilled shrimp over a balsamic reduction. The combination of flavours is superb, yet each element also stands out on its own. Then Rose disappears into the kitchen to begin preparing one of their specialities: homemade, cut-to-order, organic pasta.
Today he’s trialling a dish for their summer menu. Looking like pink bubblegum as he runs it through the pasta cutter, his beet infused spaghetti is one of several coloured varieties on offer. Once cooked, it carries a subtle yet unique flavour that’s light, fresh and perfectly suits the Saigon heat. Entwined with smoky mushrooms and herbs, it’s another example of how simple, high-quality ingredients are being elevated to the next level here.
Finally we’re treated to a tiramisu (VND100,000). Light and not too sweet, it’s the ideal finale to a meal so exquisitely prepared and presented that I’m already lining up my next visit. For those living in D2, or D1, Phu My Hung is a schlep, but with food this good, you need to get down here.