Lonely Planet Writer

Old flavours of Saigon get a modern twist at this Ho Chi Minh City dining bar

With the recent opening of NHAU NHAU, there’s a new place in Ho Chi Minh City where the flavours of Old Saigon are given a modern twist with traditional French cooking techniques.

The chef reinterprets classic Vietnamese dishes. Photo by James Pham

“Nhau” is the Vietnamese word for “drinking with friends”, and chef-owner Peter Cuong Franklin calls his new space “a re-imagination and celebration of traditional Vietnamese nhau street drinking and eating culture—the equivalent of Japanese izakayas, Spanish tapas bars, American taverns, and Thai aahaan kap.” Set above his restaurant Anan (89 Ton That Dam, District 1) and surrounded by the lively Cho Cu wet market just steps from the city’s second tallest building, NHAU NHAU is all about contrasts.

Walls are covered in sleek, handmade ceramic tiles while a blond wood bar and elegantly curved walls scream contemporary-chic. The soundtrack, however, is all vintage Saigon, played off a 1970s-era turntable. “The 1960s is the golden era of nhạc vàng [Vietnamese music],” says Chef Peter. “I love and feel inspired by the music, art and fashion during this golden period and have included them in the development of NHAU NHAU.”

The decor mixes the contemporary with the vintage. Photo by James Pham

NHAU NHAU’s food and beverage offerings are all about taking Vietnamese flavours and giving them a modern twist. The “phojito” plays with flavours from Vietnam’s traditional noodle soup, complete with a charred stick of cinnamon and fresh herbs with a kick of rice spirits, while the Pho Bullshot actually includes pho broth, together with Worcestershire, Sriracha, lime and rice wine.

Chef Peter also reinterprets classic Vietnamese dishes, for instance, using rice flour batter normally reserved for sizzling crepes to form taco shells which he stuffs with shrimp in a spicy mayo sauce or Vietnamese beef stew. The Escargot Dalat Pizza is also innovative, grilled rice paper topped with chewy snails and artisanal cheese from the Vietnamese highlands.

“Nhau” is the Vietnamese word for “drinking with friends”. Photo by James Pham

But what Chef Peter is best known for is his reinterpretation of pho. Usually viewed as cheap, fast food, Chef Peter elevates the dish by applying French cooking techniques to the broth, making it into an incredibly clear consommé, while adding premium ingredients like Australian Wagyu and black truffle. “After a year of testing and development, I believe that we are now making some of the best pho in Vietnam,” he claims. While you can order a bowl for about US$10, the full set for two, including grilled beef marrow, will set diners back a cool US$100 and must be ordered a day in advance.

By James Pham