This is going to sound odd, but Social Club may lay claim to serving the best fries in town. It sounds odd because it’s a top-end restaurant on the 23rd floor of five-star property Hotel des Arts in Ho Chi Minh City. Not your regular burger and fries joint.
The black pepper parmesan fries with truffle dip (VND150,000) are a fantastic starter for two. Sure, dip anything in truffle and it’s going to taste divine, but what Social Club serves up had me questioning whether I was ever going to be able to eat fries without it again.
Our waitress for the evening was more than happy to give us two servings of the truffle dip gratis so we could finish off the fries in style. In fact, her service was friendly and accommodating all evening. Even when we had a slight problem with one of our dishes, which was no more than a miscommunication, she was able to sort it out with the kitchen and arrive at a speedy resolution without any drama.
Social Club claims to be stylish and vibrant and a place that brings a new sense of sophistication and swagger to Ho Chi Minh City. Most of that is true, but where it falls down on that claim is that it can be rather loud. This isn’t a problem if you’ve come with a small group after work and are taking advantage of happy hour where all drinks are 50% off from 5.30pm to 8.30pm.
Open for Business
When the two of us arrived just before 8pm, the place sounded more like a department store cafeteria at lunchtime than a sophisticated fine dining lounge. At times we had to yell at one another across the table just to ask what each of us was ordering. Part of the problem is the open-plan kitchen where the chefs are in full view and making chef-type noises. The bell on the counter they ring when the food is ready is particularly annoying.
For a quieter and more relaxing space, guests can retreat to the opposite side of the restaurant where smokers light up their cigars from Social Club’s stash. Their cigars range in price from VND780,000 to VND1.2 million. I’m not a smoker so that wasn’t an option.
Still, any anxiety that had built up from the grating sounds filling the dining room was soon alleviated with a Love & Day cocktail (VND250,000) made from Mount Gay rum mixed with lime and pineapple. Its tropical flavour teleported my thoughts to the calm of a Barbadian tropical isle complete with metal drums.
The Best in Town
I ordered the 200g grass-fed Charolais beef tenderloin (VND700,000). It came out looking very small alongside a sautéed onion and some spinach, but it was cooked medium, just how I’d requested. Unfortunately, it turned out to be tough around the edges.
But maybe I was being picky because of the food envy I was beginning to have with my companion’s choice. She’d chosen the pork belly with baby calamari and roasted bell pepper (VND290,000). On her first taste she was already on world record pace for the number of OMGs counted in the space of a minute.
When I managed to get a taste of it, I understood. The pork belly was crispy, tender and juicy. It was loaded with flavour thanks to its pairing with baby calamari and smoky bell peppers, and a sauce encircling the whole dish. Without a doubt this was the best pork belly I’ve had. It’s one of those dishes that can turn a scowl into a smile very quickly. This dish alone is worth a visit to Social Club.
Because I’m a non-smoker, but wanted to pretend, we ordered the Crispy Cigar (VND180,000) to share, a cannoli dessert which is a clever play on the gentleman’s club theme Social Club is trying to cultivate. Thankfully smoking doesn’t taste this good.
Dinner for two will set you back around VND2 million at Social Club, but there’s an option to spend a whole lot more if you’re a whisky drinker or cigar connoisseur. Couples would do well to reserve the table by the window.
Social Club is on the 23rd floor of Hotel des Arts at 76-78 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, Q3, HCMC. For reservations, call (08) 3989 8888
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