Lauren Cameron investigates the mouthwatering French fare at Le Corto. Photography by Romain Garrigue.

Pan seared foie gras, smoked duck, truffle mash and dark chocolate bombs… If those ingredients don’t tantalise the taste buds I’m honestly not sure what else will. Le Corto, a French ‘bistronomique meets fine dining’ establishment located in the heart of District 1’s Ben Nghe Ward, champions a menu that highlights only the most luxurious ingredients. Described best as ‘top-notch’ casual dining where one can feel comfortable while trying innovative food, Le Corto’s kitchen team prepare every dish to order using fresh, quality produce, with meals served with a flourish by the restaurant’s very charming French waiters if you’re lucky.

The menu is the brainchild of the restaurant’s head chef Sakal Phoeung – a French Cambodian who fled his homeland for France during the reign of the Khmer Rouge, where he then trained as a chef. After returning to Asia in 2000 he has built up a rather admirable CV working as executive chef for many of Asia’s finest five-star hotels before landing at Le Corto. His extensive menu balances flamboyancy with the homely comforts of European cuisine. With droolworthy menu choices including pan seared foie gras ravioli dipped in oxtail consommé, oven baked pigeon in a cocoa pod and a devilish dessert named after a Snickers bar, Le Corto is the sort of place one comes to if they are craving something truly gratifying. As an appetiser, the Salade Landaise (VND395,000) is incredibly generous, with foie gras terrine, gizzard, smoked duck and avocado, but it’s the Cassolette d’Escargots (VND265,000) that will have you wanting for more.

The Burgundy snails come served two ways; one delicately presented and drizzled with a rich garlic pesto, the other a warming bowl of garlic, buttery snails baked in tomato compote – perfect for dipping chunks of fresh bread into. The smoked lamb rack (VND620,000) is served in a mysterious dish of trapped smoke, accompanied with a warm provençal tart, preserved lemon and black garlic – the black, sweet bulbs a perfect complement to the lamb. The pigeon (VND595,000) is another showstopper – wait staff will first present you with your oven-baked bird nestled in a giant cacao pod before taking it away, only to be returned on a far more refined plate. The aesthetics of the dish are something else – a creative combination of fresh thyme and black rock make it almost a crime to eat the edible elements of the dish. In terms of sweets, the After Eight (VND195,000) is an inventive crisp dark chocolate bomb filled with fresh mint sorbet and strawberries, the likes of which melt to become a warm, gooey mess when the waiter theatrically pours hot melted chocolate over it.

The wine menu is as one would assume it would be at a French restaurant – extensive. Bottles range from VND690,000 to a whopping VND20 mill for a Napa Valley 2012 Opus One, with glasses costing between VND145,000-VND600,000 each. Le Corto also offers a three-course set business lunch for VND250,000 and a slightly fancier degustation menu.   

5D Nguyen Sieu, Ben Nghe, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Open for lunch 11.30-2.30pm, and for dinner 5.30 – 10pm