There are two restaurants in the 5 star French run Sofitel Plaza Saigon hotel at 17 Le Duan Boulevard in District 1. There’s the international brasserie, L’Olivier and the open (almost) all hours, Cafe Rivoli. Every Sunday, the Cafe Rivoli churns out an all you can eat (and plenty you that won’t have time or room to stuff in no matter how hard you try) buffet lunch. In general, buffets spell food boredom and bags of it to me. However, there are three reasons I regularly trip along to this buffet.
Firstly, Fin de Claire Oysters. You can get these in a few French restaurants in Saigon – BiBi’s and on occasion La Fourchette – but they go for a whopping great 200,000VD for a measly 6 specimens and that’s never enough. Fortunately, at the Sofitel buffet you can eat as many as you like. Oysters are near the very top of pieman’s top ten foods of all time list.
Ideally they should come with a very chilled bottle of Gewurztraminer and followed rapidly by Steak Tartare and a leaf salad. OK – I can’t do all of that here, but I’ll settle for the oysters, a bog standard Chardonnay and a classy salad. The second reason for coming here is the grill, particularly the grilled salmon fillet, foie gras and the live king prawns.
The salmon is as fresh as any I have found in Saigon. The foie gras is a wee bit on the greasy side, but I am a fan. Like the oysters foie gras is not that common in Saigon, so I’ll ditch the complaining. I like to see my seafood swimming around before I eat it and the Sofitel has a couple of tanks of tasty live king prawns that are on my plate within 5 minutes of death and that’s fresh enough for me. Lastly, at this buffet there are dandelion leaves or as the French call them pissenlit or ‘pee in the bed’ as that is what they, apparently, make some people do. In European climes I am a bit of a hedgerow forager; mainly for blackberries, elderflower, nettles, dandelion leaves and crab apples. Finding a bit of hedgerow ‘from back home’ in Saigon is a food forager’s dream.
There’s plenty I skipped at this buffet; Roast beef, cold meats, sushi, Tom yang gung, frog’s legs and bountiful breads & salads. I did try some of the lobster, squid, scallops, clams grilled with garlic and took a brief foray into the dessert section and the cheese board. All of which is fine, but the highlights I listed above are always the sole highlights for pieman. One tip for pudding fans, hit the dessert section first. The restaurant is a little too warm and anything with chocolate on is in a wilting, sorry state by 2pm. There are number of hotels on the Saigon buffet circuit. The only other one I have tried is at the Renaissance Riverside Hotel. It’s cheaper and there’s a free flow of wine, but the service was appalling and the food patchy at best. The Sofitel buffet, plus wine, mineral water, coffee etc cost 1,740,000VD (US$110) for three persons.