In search of dinner, we hit up Twenty21one on Facebook for a reservation. Their response is fast and in 10 to 15 minutes we have a table booked for 7pm poolside.
The restaurant is on the ground floor of stylish new ‘apart-hotel’ SILA in District 3. Parking is always important on date night for any number of reasons, so we’re delighted when we discover parking is underground and close to the lifts. The parking attendant even ushers us into the lift and presses the button for our desired level. It’s the simple things that keep us happy.
As we head in, we’re pleasantly surprised that the door isn’t automatic, but is being opened by the restaurant manager who’s been anticipating our arrival. He’s pleasant and it’s a comfortable feeling not having to worry about explaining who we are and why we’re here.
The main dining area is softly lit and the temperature is cool. The whole restaurant is done out in natural wood furnishings and polished metal giving it an industrial edge. But don’t get the impression the edge is stark and cold; instead, the place feels warm and romantic. One negative to the lighting we encountered is that it’s not Instagram-friendly. The pictures we took didn’t do the food justice.
The manager leads us out of the main dining area a few steps up into what can be best described as a space. There’s a bar and then a row of tables along the window opposite which could sit at least 20 diners comfortably. This area lends itself to small gatherings and parties, but is just as comfortable for couples. This is where we sit after we decide the poolside is too warm. Also, the sweaty bodies in view, seen working out in the resident gym, don’t do much for our appetites.
Once seated, we’re given a glass of French sparkling wine and a trio of starters to enjoy with a basket of fresh crusty white bread and banh trang me (rice crackers) on the house. Finally, there’s a restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City where we don’t have to ask for it. The hummus proves to be one of the best in town.
Looking West, Looking East
Whoever came up with the menu is a genius. In a city where couples are often mixed, satisfying both people's tastes at dinner is a challenge. 21 has divided its menu into two sections — Looking West and Looking East.
The Looking West menu has a notable mix of Greek, Italian and French options. While the Looking East menu covers more of the Asian continent with fare from both northeast and southeast. There are also four house specials ranging in price from VND495,000 for a ribeye steak and sides to VND270,000 for fish and chips. There are four desserts to choose from at VND135,000 each. My companion pre-orders the warm date cake with ginger gelato, which we squeeze in after our mains.
While we mull over what to choose for our mains, we start on the half-litre carafe of Spanish merlot (VND150,000) out of which we manage to eke four glasses over dinner.
We settle on the beetroot salad (VND210,000) with rocket and mesclun, roasted beetroot, avocado, red onion, goat’s cheese, beet dressing, balsamic glaze and, something different, sunflower seeds.
It comes out looking like an ice-cream cake. It’s nothing like anything we’ve seen before. It’s delicious, but what’s left looks like a dragon fruit that has had a head-on collision with a tour bus. If you’re planning on ordering this, think ahead, don’t wear white.
Next up we go for the house special 21 chicken (VND355,000). It’s a crispy skin chicken with caper butter sauce, broccoli, rosemary and garlic potatoes. It comes out sizzling and it’s huge. The flavour reminds us of mum’s Sunday roast. The meat is tender and it’s swimming in shallow savoury gravy, but somehow manages to keep its skin crispy.
Finally, we have to try the Asian braised lamb shank with wasabi cheddar mash and charred broccoli rabe (VND185,000). Anyone who has the courage to meddle with a lamb shank by giving it an Asian twist, deserves a chance. It turns out incredible. Tender, fragrant, juicy. My only disappointment was I’d eaten all the crusty bread.
In the end we spend VND1.04 million for a very memorable dining experience and 21 has just got itself another very happy reviewer.
Twenty21one is at 21 Ngo Thoi Nhiem, Q3, HCMC
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