Elijah Ferrian hunkers down and enjoys some cosy traditional Vietnamese food at Time Bistro in Nguyen Hue. Photos by Vinh Dao.

In the heart of the city, Nguyen Hue, packed with street performers and sellers of a new era, lies a quaint Vietnamese restaurant named Time Bistro. It’s lunch time, and the place is jam-packed with young professionals during the rush.

Silkworm cocoon light fixtures dangle from the ceiling, and familiar architectural fixtures of Ho Chi Minh City are painted on the walls. Beautiful chartreuse green French doors frame the view out into the square, and the bustling scenes of the mid-day frenzy play out below us. Up here it’s calm, relaxed, and the food hasn’t even graced our plates.

Time Bistro opened 10 months ago. Owner Phuong Nguyen Thi Tuyet explains what they’re all about: “We opened Time Bistro to remind people about the Saigon before 1975, what we called Hon Ngoc Vien dong, ‘The Pearl of the Far East’.”

The restaurant is all about creating a warm atmosphere, with kind, gentle service, such that you may forget you are out for a bite to eat, and actually over at a friend’s for a nice home-cooked meal. The food does a fine job of capturing this idea with beautiful presentation matched with a menu that runs the gamut from distinctly traditional Vietnamese fare, to twists of creative flair, and a lunch-special noodle soup that seems to be a monster hit.

We start off with delicate tempura-fried giant shrimp tossed in a creamy wasabi mayo, beautifully falling out of a splayed dragon fruit (VND200,000). The subtle heat of the wasabi, intermingled with pieces of dragon fruit and its juices, made this dish a colourful contrasting plate that had our table pleased, and looking forward to what was to come.

Next up was a perfectly plated soft-shell crab sitting on a throne of crispy fried pho noodles intermingled with cabbage, bok choy, chinese broccoli, and carrot (VND220,000). This was a favourite for the presentation alone.

The lunch-time favourite, located on a specials board out front during the daily rush, was a spicy noodle soup packed with prawns, sausage, kimchi, broccoli, and enoki mushrooms (VND69,000). The spiciness of the soup is measured on a scale from 1-7. Lower numbers being mild and the highest, 7, which is what our beautiful photographer chose to torture me, was jarring, but in a surprsingly pleasant way. Somehow the heat danced perfectly with the immense depth of flavor in the dish. Still, choose wisely if you are a bit weaker when it comes to spicy food! The broth was insanely flavourful, and it could be enjoyed on its own.

I couldn’t help but feel the warmth about the place after the soup and the kind smiles from the staff. I suppose Tuyet has achieved what she was aiming for when she told me, “My hope is to make people happy and enjoy even just one minute in Time Bistro. That is truly our policy.”