The Square Vietnamese Bistro, a new addition to Thao Dien’s menu promises to give the area’s Vietnamese cuisine a reboot. By Simon Stanley. Photos by Vinh Dao.
Head out of Saigon for a few weeks and you’re guaranteed to find something new has popped up in your neighbourhood upon your return. Such was the case with The Square. Opened in late January, this funky bistro behind Pendolasco was nothing more than a rundown garage-space before Christmas.
“It was six weeks from having the idea, to opening,” says Nigel Hall, the British-born art and design teacher turned restaurateur. In a land of often mind-boggling bureaucracy, it’s refreshing to see how an idea scribbled on the back of a beermat can become one of D2’s most exciting new dining spots practically overnight.
“She was my pool partner,” says Hall introducing his business partner and head chef Quynh Pham. “We’d play pool, get drunk and talk about going into business together.”
Filling the middle-ground between cheap street-food and expensive ‘high-end’ Vietnamese dining, Quynh’s menu brings together a wide variety of affordable, authentic, yet high-quality Vietnamese dishes. “We’re zero MSG,” says Hall. “You won’t find it anywhere in our kitchen. In Quynh’s cooking the flavour is all in her expertise with sauces and marinades and how you treat the food before you cook it.”
The Square’s nem lui, or barbecued pork and beef skewers (VND 125,000), demonstrates her approach. Originating from Hue, the delicately charred meat sticks are served alongside a platter of fresh greenery, all to be wrapped inside rice paper and dipped into a rich soy and pate-based sauce. For anyone who says, “I don’t like Vietnamese food,” they obviously haven’t tried this.
Next comes mi hoanh thanh – xa xiu (VND 65,000), a zingy noodle soup topped with vegetable wonton dumplings and a generous portion of sliced cha siu pork tenderloin. When Quynh says she’s trying to introduce the local expats to a new side of Vietnamese food, away from pho and bun cha, this is what she’s talking about. Delicious.
Although The Square’s menu is 100 percent Vietnamese, there are two exceptions. One arrives first thing in the morning in the form of yoghurt and fresh fruit (VND 60,000) and is a bolt-on to local breakfast favourites such as bo kho (VND 75,000) and Vietnamese omelette (VND 65,000). The second exception is rolled out for the after-hours drinking crowd – a selection of Greek souvlaki kebabs with homemade bread wrappings (served from 10pm onwards – VND 90,000 to 110,000).
If drunken plans taste this good, mine’s another Tiger please. At VND 35,000 a glass, it’s no surprise to hear that Hall and Quynh are already dreaming up their next culinary adventure.