Elijah Ferrian tries to find the deciding factor between Belgian and French cuisine, and enjoys some of the best mussels in town. Photos by Vinh Dao.
Le Nam grew up in Lyon, France – a gastronomic capital city. His partner is Belgian/Vietnamese, and they’ve been working together in seafood export for two years. When the time came around to open their first restaurant, the concept seemed more than obvious.
“Our goal here is to mainly give the Vietnamese a real taste of Belgian and French food.” Nam says. “There’s a lot of other places [run only by Vietnamese] that are French, but they aren’t the most authentic.”
“Our meat is imported from New Zealand, we know our seafood, and we focus on fine food with a great price. There are some authentic dishes that allow our guests to go out of their comfort zone and experience something different.”
Living in Saigon, we all should have an adequate idea of what French cuisine entails, but what about foods of the Belgian variety?
“For me, Belgian food is more rustic, a countryside-style food.” Nam says.
Hungry patrons can expect to find classic favourites like mussels in cream sauce served with french fries (VND250,000), rich duck leg confit (VND245,000), perfectly cooked ham hock with honey sauce (VND255,000), and classic onion soup (VND70,000).
Nam tells me that it’s been a new challenge to find ways to introduce the local population to the various delicacies that grace tables all over Belgium. Obviously steak frites, a 150g cut of beef served with fries and salad (VND185,000) is an easy go-to for anyone not familiar with this kind of Western cuisine, but Nam would like to provide items that one can’t find anywhere else in Vietnam.
An authentic Belgian endive salad (VND175,000) is a perfect example of this passion to nudge guests into something new. Endive is an elegant member of the chicory family with a bitter flavour. The dish is served with individual fronds topped with a complementary mix of apple, walnut and bleu cheese. This is not something you will find elsewhere in the city.
A North African dish, couscous, composed of semolina with vegetables and meat (chicken, merguez sausage, lamb rack, beef skewer, or ‘royal’ (mix of all) for VND210,000 to VND285,000, is a French favourite that has become one of La Belgique’s most popular plates. Nam is proud of this. The two locations that one could order couscous in the past have since closed, making La Belgique the only game in town.
La Belgique runs rotating chalkboard specials that are pushed by the creativity of the owners and kitchen. In addition to this wellspring of new items for their regulars, there is also a lunch special everyday which allows a choice between two appetisers and two entrees.
They specialise in carrying authentic Belgian beer brands like Stella Artois (VND70,000), Hoegaarden and Leffe (VND80,000), and Chimay (VND180,000). A host of French wine options by the bottle are available, and a by-the-glass red for VND60,000.