Saigon’s newest Italian restaurant presents the height of subterranean fine dining.  By Dana Filek-Gibson. Photos by Vinh Dao.

Saigon’s restaurant scene is in the midst of a transformation. In recent months, its international cuisine has taken on new life. Where Italian eateries, for instance, once stuck strictly to the standard pizza-and-pasta menu, today newer ventures are branching out to include a more nuanced picture of a much-loved cuisine, and giving a nod to the maturing tastes of Saigonese in the process.

This is certainly true at Romeo & Juliet, the underground restaurant of the newly-opened Reverie Saigon, a five-star hotel near the riverfront with sky-high rooms and a range of upscale dining spaces. Named after a certain pair of star-crossed lovers, R&J resides beneath the hotel’s The Long Bar, and is reinventing local dining to encourage the kind of slower, savour-the-moment experience that allows guests to enjoy the space’s ambiance, food and top-notch service.

To start, dismantle the beautifully-arranged Polipo (VND 158,000), a salad of octopus, organic greens, salmon roe, string beans and zucchini drizzled with hazelnut dressing. Gathered into a cylindrical shape, the zucchini and finely-sliced octopus act as a shell for the remaining ingredients. When mixed, its contents form a simple salad with complex flavours, from the freshness of the greens to the salty salmon roe and the slightly sweet octopus.

However, perhaps the most surprising dish on offer is R&J’s risotto (VND 198,000), an Italian classic turned on its head with the help of strawberries and roasted quail. The risotto, made from Italian-imported carnaroli rice, fits perfectly between the sweetness of the berries and the savoury, slightly bitter taste of the quail.

Similarly appetising is the tagliata di manzo (VND 520,000), which combines a thick cut of high-grade USDA American ribeye, slow-grilled to perfection over a charcoal fire, with fresh parmesan, baby arugula, cherry tomatoes and an aged balsamic reduction.

Be sure to save room for dessert: R&J’s tiramisu (VND 128,000) is not to be missed. Prepared at the table, freshly-made lady fingers are dipped in espresso and placed at the bottom of a cup. A light, airy cream of mascarpone cheese, sugar and egg yolk is then added from a handheld siphon, followed by a dash of cocoa powder to balance the flavours. The result is a rich, melt-in-your-mouth dessert that’s neither too heavy nor too filling.

Keep your eyes peeled over the coming months, as R&J will offer a series of five-course tasting menus (VND 888,000).

Times Square Building, 57 – 69F Dong Khoi, D1
Tel: 08 38 236 688
5pm – 12am