This rustic restaurant perched above downtown offers a secluded getaway and tasty traditional food. By Brett Davis.
Tucked away down a hem off of Saigon’s central boulevard, the street-level entrance to Mountain Retreat can be easy to miss. A simple wooden sign adorns the entrance way into an old French-era building.
From there you begin to understand one of the reasons for the venue’s name: it is five floors of stairs but the view and the ambiance is well worth the trip. This is because the other reason for the name is the restaurant is decked out to resemble a traditional home from the mountainous north of Vietnam.
This includes mud-rendered walls and liberal use of natural timber and stone. Some colourful table runners and cushions using ethnic minority fabrics from the same region complete the picture.
You can even go one step higher and visit the open-air rooftop with its very impressive garden which boasts stands of corn, lemongrass and other herbs and vegetables. It also offers a stunning view of downtown, particularly in the evening.
The food on offer is very traditional Vietnamese, and many of the items on the menu will be recognizable to most. The difference here is the quality of the product and its impeccable presentation.
We started off with a couple of classics: the fresh spring rolls (VND 75,000) and the banh xeo (VND 75,000) which were as good as you could want. Next it was on to some grilled shrimp (VND 105,000) which was served with a lovely fresh salsa.
One dish that really caught the attention was the pomelo salad with shredded dried fish (VND 85,000). It is not one that you might normally think of as a stand-out, but here it really does go the extra mile with the combination of flavours and textures. The sweet pomelo combines with the salty, chewy dried fish and it is all brought together with a drizzle of fish sauce and a surprising kick of chilli.
Mountain Retreat’s cocktails include the Mountain Colada (VND 95,000), a mix of black glutinous rice wine, pineapple juice, coconut cream and lime; and the Mountain Retreat (VND 115,000), which combines lemongrass and ginger-infused vodka, egg whites, lychee puree and lime juice.
A personal favourite, however, was the Mountain by Night (VND 95,000) made with vodka, peach, anise, grenadine, pineapple juice and kumquat. The savoury spice element added by the star anise was unusual but definitely worked.
If you are looking for some quality traditional food or a relaxing beverage above the fray of the street, then this could very well become your own personal retreat.