A new French restaurant with a weekly-rotating menu and a classically-trained chef. By Michael Tatarski. Photos by Linh Phanroy.
There is no shortage of French restaurants in Saigon, and as a result it can be difficult for a new one to stand out from the pack. L’essentiel, which opened about three months ago, manages to do just that, largely thanks to the skills of head chef Vanessa Bui, who trained in France.
The décor is simple but elegant, with minimal decorations. Upstairs there is a non-smoking room which has a warmer atmosphere than the ground floor. There is also an open-air terrace with a foosball table, one of the few in the city.
L’essentiel rotates through four menus, one for each week of a month. This illustrates an emphasis on freshness, and also a desire to provide customers with a different experience every time they visit. There is also a set lunch, which offers a starter, main and dessert or coffee for VND 200,000-225,000.
We began with the ribeye steak with mashed potatoes and pesto (VND 325,000). The Australian beef was cooked to perfection and very fresh, with a hearty flavour. The rich, creamy mashed potatoes were a definite highlight, with the pesto adding a delightful punch.
Next we had the pan-fried seabass with grilled tomatoes and eggplant (VND 285,000). This was a beautifully presented dish, with the crispy fish fillet placed on top of a bed of vegetables. The fish is bought fresh every day, and this showed in the taste.
For our third dish we went with something lighter, the scallops carpaccio (VND 165,000). The paper-thin scallops were arranged like flowers, and there was a hint of vinegar to the taste. On a hot day this dish was wonderfully refreshing.
We finished with a dessert of heavy coffee (VND 135,000), a classic French digestif of three tarts and an espresso. The delicate tarts came in mango, chocolate and almond cream flavours and provided a sweet ending to an excellent meal.
L’essential also has a wide selection of drinks, as well as house wine for VND 50,000 a glass. A projector will be installed soon so guests can watch sports on the wall. With its great food and good service, L’essential is a welcome addition to the city’s dining scene.