Elijah Ferrian sits down at a long-standing Saigon restaurant, Skewers, for the first time, and soaks in the history of one of the best places to get an international home-cooked meal in the city. Photos by Vinh Dao.
Skewers began its journey in 2000, when Tristan Ngo bought the small restaurant after the former owners shopped him the idea.
“They asked me if I wanted to manage a small restaurant,” Ngo reminisces. “I said no. Then soon after they asked if I wanted to invest in a small restaurant. I told them maybe. Then they came and asked if I wanted to take over a restaurant. It was a place doing alright, but in debt. I looked at it and said okay. It was a good price. I took over and revamped everything, and we started with a one-page menu. I did everything in the beginning with just a couple staff. I was the bartender, the chef, the dishwasher, and the cashier. It was a bit of a struggle. We were surrounded by some really old establishments at the time.”
This work ethic and drive that Tristan Ngo possesses, shines in the food and service at the now sixteen-year-old mainstay on Thai Van Lung.
The food is simple, unpretentious, and perfectly executed. It doesn’t matter if it’s a bowl of chilled golden tomato gazpacho (VND100,000), baked moroccan spiced sea bass with basil risotto and mushrooms (VND340,000), or New Zealand grass fed lamb chop skewers (VND600,000), the kitchen is precise and display the kind of consistency one can only find from a team that has been working together with their owner for years.
The company itself has become a family affair. There are nine couples married within Ngo’s restaurant network, all with kids. Most of them have been with him from the beginning.
“My best compliment was from a family from Turkey,” Ngo says. “They came in and ate everything halal, all of our meat is halal and kosher. The father asked me: ‘Tristan I have a question. How were you able to cook the food here the way that I eat it at home?’ That is the best compliment ever, and they still come. They’ve been coming every month since.”
Skewers’ menu is designed to accommodate both vegetarian and non vegetarian diners
The sizzling shrimp plate hosts gigantic imported shrimp drenched with beurre blanc sauce and capers with sliced squash and zucchini (VND380,000). The white wine flavour matched the rich, meaty shrimp, and the vegetables provided a nice break in texture. This is mediterranean comfort food.
Now, we all know that Western BBQ is extremely popular here in Saigon, but what you might not know is that Skewers has arguably the best ribs in the city. Their 2014 and 2015 Award winning “Best BBQ Pork Ribs” are a massive 1.5kg of low-and-slow oven-smoked honey BBQ with a side of fries (VND625,000). The awards are rightly deserved. You could put these up against anyone in town, hell, anyone in the Southern States of America, home of BBQ.
Whether guests are looking for mediterranean cuisine, some genuinely great service from an attentive staff, or to try some of the best “under the radar” ribs in town, Skewers stays busy, and all by well-deserved word of mouth.