A purveyor of Southeast Asian cuisine, in recent times Monsoon has switched its focus to all things Thai. So how does this colonial villa Saigon staple fare? Photos by Rodney Hughes

 

Just a stone’s throw away from Bui Vien and Nguyen Cu Trinh, this staple of Saigon’s culinary scene has been home to many flavours over the years. Decorated with beautiful, Hoi An-style lanterns and large mirrors, the large space appears even larger at first, yet is fantastically intimate. The lighting is lush and low without losing visibility, creating a beautiful atmosphere.

 

Upon arrival, my date and I were greeted with two refreshing glasses of lemongrass juice which was a nice touch, and the simplicity of the spicy nuts served as a light snack were super delicious.

 

We opted for soft drinks instead of the usual beer (Tiger or Saigon would set you back VND45,000) to accompany our Thai food. I ordered the orchid soda (VND70,000), a slightly sour and fabulously thirst-quenching drink, while my date opted for the aloe vera juice (VND45,000).

 

Multiple Choice

 

While Monsoon offers Thai, Vietnamese, Laotian and Burmese cuisine — we decided to focus our efforts on Thai food. We ordered fried catfish and mango salad (VND130,000), tom yum goong soup (VND140,000), green chicken curry with Thai sticky rice (VND130,000), and pad Thai (VND150,000).

 

The service staff at Monsoon were attentive and friendly, offering to answer any questions to the best of their ability, and they started bringing out our drinks and orders as soon as they were available. The one issue was, however, with the amount we had ordered — our two-person table was quickly taken over by plates, bowls, and containers of rice.

 

The crunchy fried catfish paired with the spicy and tart mango salad proved to be a delight for the taste buds, the combination of textures and flavours working together in a beautiful harmony. The fried catfish was unlike any fried protein I’d tried before, as the texture was so light and savoury in contrast with the fleshy, sweet mango salad.

 

All Harmony

 

Tom yum goong soup is a prime example of delicious Thai food with the lovely light spice, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves. An authentic tom yum goong should not overwhelm the dish with any of these flavours, but play them in harmony, and the result from the Monsoon kitchen was lovely.

 

Green curry with chicken was served alone, we had to order the side of Thai sticky rice as an extra, and it was needed to dilute the intense flavours. As with a good green curry the kaffir lime leaves and fish sauce lead the way on the palette, however the curry paste was rather grainy. The dish was served with tender slices of chicken and small fat onions which were a textural delight.

 

What Thai meal would be complete without sampling the pad Thai? A good pad Thai must, like all Asian food, find the perfect balance of spices, textures and flavours. The Monsoon version was a delight, with tiny, dried shrimp and tofu pieces, as well as larger fresh shrimps, the noodles were perfectly textured against the peanuts and bean sprouts.

 

After our feast of food, we still decided that we would have to order dessert. The fried banana and vanilla ice cream (VND80,000) was the consensus of the table and whithin minutes there wasn’t a morsel left to eat, even though just 10 minutes earlier we’d been complaining about how full we were. The fried banana wasn’t overly sweet by any means, and the savoury, warm batter provided the perfect backdrop for the vanilla ice cream to end our meal.

 

We had a feast of five dishes for two at a cost of VND1.07 million which, considering the quality of the food, seems perfectly reasonable for such a centrally located restaurant.

 

Monsoon Restaurant and Bar is at 1 Cao Ba Nha, Q1, HCMC

 


 

The Verdict

 

Food: 13

 

Service: 11

 

Décor: 12

 

Food, Decor and Service are each rated on a scale of 0 to 15.

 

13 — 15 extraordinary to perfection

10 — 12.5 very good to excellent

8 — 9.5 good to very good

5 — 7.5 fair to good

0 — 4.5 poor to fair

 

The Word reviews anonymously and pays for all meals

The Word

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