Lauren Cameron dives into a relaxing the new comfort food restaurant in District 2, Noi. Photos by Jonny Edbrooke.
Sitting back with a glass of chilled rose in hand and a seafood cassolette before you, it’s not difficult to imagine you are somewhere warm, dreamy and languid in the Mediterranean as you while away a lunchtime at Noi.
One certainly wouldn’t think they were but a stone’s throw from one of Thao Dien’s busiest intersections. Such is the aim of restaurant owner Emile Ho Bao Loc, who wanted to create a retreat for families and people seeking a moment’s respite from the frenzied streets of Ho Chi Minh City.
“I want this to be a place where people know they can feel comfortable, while enjoying the best in comfort food,” he said.
And so far it’s working: soft, pastel-coloured furniture, leafy hanging terrariums and plenty of natural light work to create a natural, calming atmosphere in both the downstairs restaurant and the upstairs pergola and bar.
At the end of a small lane off Thao Dien Street, Noi shares a quiet cul-de-sac with popular Vietnamese haunt, Hue Corner. Fortuitously so, because customers can order from either venue. Noi is smoke-free (in the downstairs restaurant), vegetarian and family-friendly, and most dishes are designed to be shared.
The food at Noi is unpretentious, inspired not only by Emile’s own upbringing in the South of France but also by cuisines of the Middle East, Italy, Spain, Vietnam and the United States.
I was pleasantly surprised to find our meal began the same way it might in Emile’s hometown of Nice, with a small plate of complementary ‘pissadaliere’ – a Provencal pizza-like tart topped with sauteed onions, slivered Nicoise olives, herbs and garlic. “Simple, but good, like this place,” Emile said. “And a much better alternative to peanuts.”
Dishes range from a reasonable VND95,000 to VND185,000, with French staples including traditional French onion soup, seared scallops with a unique Basquaise Sauce (VND145,000), a rich tomato cassoulet of pork belly and Toulouse sausage (VND185,000) and a seriously more-ish seafood cassolette (VND160,000). Infused with a leek, Bechamel and white wine sauce, the cassolette had a rich, peppery finish that somehow whet my appetite the more I ate. In contrast, Noi’s Special (VND145,000), a crispy fried rice dish tossed with prawns, calamari, mushrooms and clams, had a gingery zest to it that really complemented the seafood. It’s the Turkish lamb kebab with Harissa (VND155,000) that will have you going back for more though. The pita is thick, salty, hot and served fresh from the oven, daily. If you are after something seriously satisfying, there is also a homemade Italian white wine beef stew with rigatoni and melted cheese (VND175,000). Need I say more?
A happy hour is in Noi’s imminent future, which will apply to all cocktails and wine. With drinks ranging from VND40,000 –VND190,000, I would say this will make a very nice Sunday afternoon spot.