And certainly, their menu is unusual, their presentation dazzling, their prices reasonable, and their location is quite central.
Their chef — a Master Chef Vietnam who prefers anonymity — moonlights as many chefs do planning menus for other restaurants. The resulting selections gleam with culinary creativity.
My girlfriend and I immediately ordered a mango parfait (VND75,000) and frozen yoghurt; crunchy puffed rice and chunks of sweet mango never tasted so good. We also got a banana espresso (VND55,000), an interesting combination, but not as successful as the parfait.
We started dinner with a salad of rocket and cilantro over green tea-smoked beef (VND120,000) before moving onto the tom yum soup topped with baked puff pastry (VND195,000) perhaps the most unlikely and successful combination of the night. The buttery puff pastry dissolved into the creamy tom yum broth and merged with the spicy chilli and lemongrass tartness.
For main courses, we debated between the braised lamb shank with puréed curried cauliflower (VND265,000) and the roasted beef tenderloin with succulent marrow cubes and tamarind sauce over mashed sweet potato (VND295,000) before finally choosing the beef.
For the other main course, the roasted duck breast with duck spring roll, baked apple and lemon-leaf salad (VND215,000) was the obvious winner, as well as being one of their most remarked-upon dishes online.
One thing I truly enjoyed about Eleven Café is the chef’s clear attempt to promote healthy eating and regional ingredients. Yes, the beef is Australian and so is the lamb, the duck is probably Thai — but all the veggies? All those lovely spices? Pure Southeast Asia.
As for healthy eating, note the lack of high-glycaemic index foods like rice and potatoes. Try the puréed veggies instead, and don’t be surprised when you’re scraping the plate for every last bite. We were even inspired to skip dessert for once.
A Success, With Some Reservations
This is not to say Eleven Café is perfect. Their menu is innovative, yes, but it also smacks of unreached potential. My girlfriend and I wondered if this was where the unnamed chef brings his works in progress, a living lab to field-test new ideas.
Because as tasty as the food was, it struck us as incomplete. We both agreed the salad needed cheese, that the beef needed salt, pepper and something more to bring the tenderloin’s flavour to its rightful height.
Most of the dishes, however, succeed. They look beautiful, they taste good, textures and flavours combining in a balanced, thoughtful and occasionally wild way.
Eleven Café is a fun break from endless burgers and slices of pizza — or pho and bun bo Hue, for that matter — a reasonably-priced spot to try something a bit different while appreciating the view below.
As for the coffee and pastries Eleven Café still sells, I’m assured they’re tops, too. — Owen Salisbury
Eleven Café is located at 29 Le Anh Xuan, Q1, HCMC at the corner of Le Thanh Ton, and is open from 7am to 11pm