Like the direction the restaurant faces — away from the city centre — its concept is outward looking, bold and daring. It’s almost as if the bulls behind Mad Cow, General Manager Tony Chisholm and Head Chef Danny Grisham, are waving a muleta at the competition near and far tempting them to charge them down.
“You’ve got to keep evolving,” says Chef Danny. “You can’t just kick back and offer the same menu time and again. You have to evolve because Saigon is becoming a foodies’ destination and competition from all over is sitting up and taking notice.”
Mad Cow differentiates itself from other Saigon restaurants in the same segment with its sharing concept. You can be forgiven for thinking it’s an out-and-out steakhouse given its audacious name, its grisly-looking mascot, Maddy, red-and-black decor and light fittings (that look somewhat like a set of horns on an angry bull), and its macho charcoal grill.
But aside from serving up steaks like their gorgeous 350g hunks of Australian grass-fed Black Angus ribeyes (VND800,000) or their 250g free-range wagyu striploins (VND1.1million) from the pastures of Western Australia, dinner out with friends can quite easily start off with some tapas, of which there are three to choose from.
The VND280,000 tapas option gives you three ham, cheese and potato croquettes; a handful of fried lemongrass and chilli chicken wings; and three spicy BBQ lamb ribs. Once you’ve licked your fingers clean of the sticky marinade, you can pick at the Mad Cow Board (VND850,000) over the course of the evening, which has a selection of four cheeses, including an amazing blue, and four cold cuts of meat (ham, salami and chorizo) served with condiments and bread.
Other excellent sharing dishes include the wagyu beef cheek bourguignon (VND400,000) which comes with buttered mash, shallots, mushrooms and bacon; the delicate-looking and tasting burrata salad (VND210,000) with heirloom tomatoes, basil and rocket, plated much like a Japanese dish, served up in a black textured bowl and imaginatively garnished with long, slender pieces of bread that resemble chopsticks resting to the side.
And if you needed further proof that Mad Cow isn’t just a beef steakhouse, the salmon steak (VND640,000) with garlic aioli and charred leeks showcases the variety of sharing options available. Chef Danny has even come up with a vegan burger (VND250,000) put together with locally-made cashew cheese, chipotle slaw and French fries.
When we visited, he served up a side of mac and cheese with some chilli spiced root vegetables (VND70,000 per portion) just in case we needed reminding of how flexible the menu is. Every week there’s also a Seafood Sunday when you can get a sharing board of seafood plus two glasses of wine for VND890,000.
Mad Cow isn’t just bullish about its food. General manager, Tony, argues that their wine list is second to none in Saigon. With over 50 labels to choose from — including 12 by the glass — it’s hard to disagree with him, especially given they are at prices you’d expect to pay at a wine cellar, not in a higher- end restaurant.
It’s evident that Tony wants to ensure guests get the full treatment with great food and wine in an environment that is fun and accessible backed up with excellent service.
“The restaurant and bar scene in Saigon has changed dramatically over the last five years,” he says. “They’ve become more creative, introducing clever interior design concepts. We recognised that if we wanted to enjoy our fair share of the restaurant market, we needed to reinvent ourselves.”
Diners, along with guests who drop by for a drink at the beautiful timber-finished bar that has some of the best views of Saigon going around, can imbibe on reds and whites from the old world and new. A glass of Yalumba shiraz from Australia is VND135,000, or VND670,000 for the bottle. Other wines range in price from VND480,000 for a bottle of French malbec, up to the higher end of the price range for a bottle of Craggy Range pinot noir from New Zealand for VND1.2 million. Noticeably, the cost of a bottle hovers somewhere between VND500,000 to VND800,000, something of an enticement to crack one open over dinner.
Mad Cow Wine & Grill offers a little something for everyone. Don’t expect sawdust on the floor, swinging saloon doors and a mechanical bull in the corner, just great value for money.
Mad Cow Wine & Grill is on the 30th floor of the Pullman Saigon Centre, 148 Tran Hung Dao, Q1, HCMC. Open daily from 4pm to midnight. For more info and bookings, go to madcowsaigon.com and facebook.com/madcowsaigon, or call (028) 3838 8686
PHOTOS BY BAO ZOAN