Swiss delights in downtown Saigon. By Erik Johnson. Photos by Vinh Dao.
Tucked away on Le Thanh Ton Street, Swiss House Saigon is like a breath of fresh mountain air. Boasting a Swiss chef, authentic Swiss dishes from several regions and chalet-style décor complete with red doors and ceiling beams, Swiss House is a quick vacation from the same-same found at other eating establishments.Chef Jack Legler, a 15-year resident of Saigon, creates a different three-course set lunch Tuesdays through Fridays, with items ranging from pork tenderloin medallions with pink, moist interiors to veal sausage in onion gravy with rosti potatoes, a tricky traditional Swiss side that requires the potatoes to be boiled, then grated and fried, to dishes of his own creation, like cheese-and-spinach spring rolls served with a cocktail sauce.
The star of the show is without a doubt the cheese fondue. Chef Legler protects the exact recipe but says that it is 75 percent Swiss Gruyere cheese. One can spot slices of garlic simmering in the bubbling pot. A glass of Chilean Chardonnay is the perfect complement to cheese-coated bread or sausage cubes, while the more adventurous can soak their bread in a cherry brandy before dipping it in the cheese for a flavour enhancement that dances on the tongue and warms the belly.
One pleasant surprise is the exclusive focus on Swiss items – there is no hamburger or bun bo Hue at the Swiss House. Chef Legler presents a dining experience that is as “authentically Swiss as possible,” believing that there are plenty of Vietnamese restaurants in town for those who want local fare. But Legler notes that Vietnamese still frequent the establishment, wishing to try foreign food. For locals, the fondue has been the hardest sell – traditionally, Vietnamese and cheese “don’t mix,” according to the chef, but even this is changing.
The other surprise is the price. The daily set lunch is a mere VND 160,000 and even the decadent fondue dish is only VND 400,000 for enough cheese and bread to satisfy two people. The owner’s wife, Ms Thuy, related that she wants to “offer people luxury food at a reasonable price,” and Swiss House has certainly met these lofty goals. “Quality in a simple form,” Legler adds. “This is the Swiss way.”