This is Bun Ta – ‘Everything is Bun’ restaurant at 136 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia street in District 1. It’s fairly new and I mentioned it pre-opening, but never got around to blogging it up. I went there for the first time four months ago during its opening week. What’s unusual for such a swank ‘n’ chic, minimal ‘n’ groovy resto is the menu. It’s predominantly filled with the signature dishes of the Saigon streets. Dishes I’ve never seen any chef jazz up any differently from the next stall. The chefs at Bun Ta adhere to that rule. What we’ve got here is streetfood on posh plates, at clean tables in snazzy surroundings – Nice idea – All the groovy, beautiful people born with a Motorola attached to their right ear are here. Yep – if you’re Vietnamese and you eat at Bun Ta – you’ve made it.
The eating area is spick, span and spacious. And it’s busy. On this visit, it was almost full by the time we’d finished. The subtitle to the restaurant name gives the menu away. We’re in noodleland. Bun rieu, bun mam, canh bun, bun bo, bun moc etc. Yup – everything really is bun. But is it fun?
Dodging the soup section for a minute we start with chao tom banh hoi – barbecued shrimp paste on sugarcane – served with some trippy colourfully tiedyed bun. It comes with slices of cucumber, starfruit and green banana and a nuoc mam – fish sauce – dip and rice paper to wrap. The chao tom are kinda small, but it looks fabulous and tastes great. The shrimp paste crumbles very easily off the cane into small chunks. However, it does make for a light lunch and you may need another dish if you want to flex your belt to its more usual position. Next up is bun oc – snail noodle soup.
I’ve been holding off blogging about Bun Ta as I wanted to gauge this soup with another, more street, bun oc. The Bun Ta bun oc is good, it’s very good. Packed with flavour, tofu, tomato, blood and snails. But is it that good? Well… no it’s not. I am nitpicking here, but I have three problems with Bun Ta. Firstly, it serves a perfectly respectable soup in pleasant, comfortable, air-conditioned surroundings and you get to sit near lots of gorgeous, nouveau riche Saigonites. But… I’m more… you know… old school. Bit of grime, crusty chilli sauce bottles, flies buzzing around, rusty, dusty fan creaking overhead and soup that arrives with the waitresses thumb inserted in the broth. You won’t find any of that at Bun Ta.
Secondly, there’s the price. Am I really willing to spend nearly six times the regular price to pay for the surroundings in which I eat? Well. No. I’m not. But plenty of folk will. Saigonese are mad for flash and that’s why I think Bun Ta might just do very well, thank you very much. "Give ’em what they like, but dress it up nice and charge them more" The last problem is the location, the owners chose a bitch of a spot. It’s right next door to the exceedingly popular, very good, more reaosnably priced, more atmospheric and downhome Quan An Ngon restaurant. If I was in the area and it was a toss up between the two, downhome wins everytime. Lunch for two including drinks and a rice dish for the toad came to 247,250VD. Here are a few more snaps and here’s the Bun Ta website. Final bonus link: another diner’s point of view.