The Mekong Merchant, restaurant in Saigon

10 Jun

Last week we went to The Mekong Merchant, a restaurant in District 2, in Saigon.

The D2 is a posh district full of expats, and it was no surprise to see so many restaurants, one Chez Fanny, and even an organic food shop and a wine shop !

We headed to The Mekong Merchant which is belonging to the owner of The Deck, also in D2, but more expensive with a spot on the riverside.

I actually wanted to try The Deck, but I found it so hard to find what are the prices that I didn’t.
On their , there is the menu but not the prices (I hate that!) and I read all the pages of Trip Advisor to try find something else than “we were 8 we took 2 bottles of wine and paid 200$” which is not helpful.

So when we went in front of The Deck, and once again, we could’nt find a menu. I think it is so rude to ask for a menu to a waiter and then say; “sorry mate, not eating here!”.

The Mekong Merchant had the “today’s specialties” board on the front of the restaurant, so we knew it would be ok.

The place is cosy and the waiters are nice. There was one waiters’ chief who was a bit authoritarian with her colleagues, it was kind of creepy (we are not used to see that in front of the clients).

Because the chef is English (as I saw in a paper), they created a menu for the Queen’s Jubilee.

It nearly made me feel in England, and it reminded me that I could have been in the streets of London on that day.

Because chocolate is expensive here, I nearly force myself to eat stuffs made with chocolate to prevent me from missing it.

So I got used to order a Socola Da which is an iced chocolate. I must admit that this one was a “North European” one, meaning it was made with natural milk (in Vietnam you always have it with condensed or sweetened milk, which can ruin the taste of the chocolate) but it was not as perfect as an Italian chocolate.

I liked the fact there was no sugar inside and that is was nearly bitter, thus anyone could make it its own way by adding their personal amount of sugar. It cost 40 000 dongs each (my friend took one too), which is about 1,5€.

The Mekong Merchant has a great range of courses in its menu, there are some posh sandwiches which is what we both took, panini, and regular courses like pasta, pizza, risotto…

In the menu, I chose the Tuna steak with tapenade, roasted peppers and salad (I think it was rocket, it could make sense, but I can’t remember and the photos are not helping!).

With each of those sandwiches, you have a bunch of chips (the British way, as you can see!), a cress salad (mmmmh the salad sauce was made with balsamic vinegar…! I didn’t know until then that I was missing it so much) and you could choose the bread: bagel, foccacia with tomatoes, rye bread… As you can see, I chose the focaccia bread.

I cannot understand the words “focaccia bread”, I think chefs and bakers are trying to make a bread that is a bit like focaccia but it’s not (maybe they just put some olive oil in a normal bread dough).

Focaccia is something I grew up with. Each summer when I went to Italy, I ate a few pieces each day. I think I was eating . Focaccia is not easy to find in Italy and it’s more difficult in big cities such as Torino, Milano or Venezia than in small ones. Maybe next time I’ll be in Italy I’ll show you what it’s like!

Anyway, let’s focus on The Mekong Merchant. I was surprised to see that I had a real piece of tuna inside my sandwich instead of a few chunks coming from a can (it may have been written in the menu, because there was one word I didn’t understand after “tuna”).

The tapenade (olives mixed with olive oil and a few anchovies) was a bit dry. Thus, because it was the only “sauce’ inside the bread, it made the whole sandwich dry. You see, I read somewhere that in a good sandwich, you always need to have a “binder” (“un liant” for the French speaking persons). Something that is like a sauce, or butter, olive oil, pesto, cream cheese (…) which is going to link all the other ingredients together, give a unit and avoid the sandwich to be dry.

As you can see on the picture below, the tapenade wasn’t looking like a usual tapenade, it was coarse, thus not “liquid” enough (that’s what didn’t prevent the sandwich from getting dry). It was obvious that it was hand-made and I could taste the anchovies, but a more regular tapenade would have taken the sandwich to the next level.

Anyway, the sandwich was really nice, made with fresh products, home-made bread… It was good. It cost 120 000 dongs (less than 5€).

My friend took a sandwich with a nuts and seeds rye bread. Inside, there was some salad, avocado, dried tomatoes and slow roasted chicken. I didn’t try it, but it seemed well done too. It cost 105 000 dongs (about 4€).

As you can see, I nearly destroyed mine.
The cress was good (it reminded me of when I was buying some at Tesco while I was living in England), and the chips home-made. The only thing I didn’t like was the fact that they were already salty. I prefer when you have them “natural” and you can add the salt, because it is more personal and people are always complicated with salt.
Furthermore, it would help everyone to eat chips without salt, because we eat too salty.

We then spotted the pastries’ corner. Unfortunately, it was filled with Jubilee’s cupcakes, whick looked like basic cupcakes with a Union Jack’s icing.
Icing is what bothers me the most when it comes to eating cupcakes. Some are good and made with cream cheese for instance, but butter icing with a lot of colours but still the same taste is not what I prefer. The only butter icing I really like is the one with chocolate or peanut butter (in a few months you’ll have my recipe of chocolate cupcakes with a peanut butter icing).

There were also some muffins (blueberry ones ?). Apparently the pastry corner (you can see it on my picture of the restaurant above) is changing everyday, it’s a nice idea.

My eyes directly focused on the two viennoiseries. It looked like a pain au chocolat and a croissant.
Thus, as some good French expats, we took them before they disappeared.
Because I am living in Vietnam, I can say that they were both perfectly done. They were the best I have eaten since I am here.
I saw once an interview of a pastry chef saying that to recognize a great puff pastry, you need to be able to count the “levels” of it and smell the butter.

In France we are always complicated with pastry and bread. Unfortunately, some of us aren’t that complicated (how much times did I see a French person buying a supermarket’s croissant?).
I realized while I was staying in England that we are the only ones in Europe being so perfectionist with bread.
I had so much chats about the rice with Asian friends. Well, at least I taught them (and also to European friends) that the crispy bread I had bought at Costcutter WAS NOT delicious, but only a fine industrial bread.

When you’re a French abroad, you are so pernickety with bread that you are starting to touch all the breads to see which one is the crisper. I am looking forward to the moment when my friends will spend some time at my place in France, eating good bread every day and starting to understand what is a great baguette.

I have only a few remarks to make about the croissant and pain au chocolat from The Mekong Merchant.
First of all, I must say they were expensive (50 000 dongs, less than 1,80€), more than in France (0,90-1€ for a croissant, 1,10-1,20€ for a pain au chocolat), but I am not surprised because butter here is imported.

Now some “French expat” remarks: I was missing my second chocolate bar in the pain au chocolat. There must always be two bars inside. It is not negociable.

Finally, I didn’t get why there was butter on the side of the croissant.
In France, when you go to the bakery, you have the choice between a butter croissant and a nature croissant. This might make you wondering what the nature croissant is made of. Well, still with a puff pastry (which is made with a lot of butter), but I think that the butter croissant has some more butter inside, which makes it less dry and tastier.
Thus, I thought that the piece of butter was there to be spread inside if you wanted a butter croissant, or maybe just to be spread as if you were putting some jam in a piece of bread.
I am some kind of an unconditional of the croissant, so I don’t really like the idea of putting something inside, whether it is jam, custard or something else (this tends to drive me crazy when I go to Spain or Italy).
Anyway, it was a nice thought from The Mekong Merchant.

By the way, they made it warm before serving, which was a great thing! For the people who have stayed in France, I can say that The Mekong Merchant’s pastries are like the ones from a random good bakery.

Mark : 4/5

So The Mekong Merchant is definitely a place to go if you’re going to District 2.
If you’re not in the area, don’t go there, District 2, as weird as it can sound, is a bit far away from the city centre, it may cost you 100 000 dongs for a cab to bring you there from Ben Thanh. There is not much to see there, even though I must admit that it is a nice place to have a walk, because the houses are really pretty and impressive, and there is not much crowd or motorbikes (although if you’re a foreigner, you’ll still be harassed by taxis).

If you still want to visit District 2, you can go to Xa Lo Ha Noi street (which is dividing the district in two parts), try to get into the Metro (be careful when crossing the highway!), and discover Vietnamese products but also have fun seeing all the wholesale products (Metro is a supermarket for shop owners).

One thing I like is that people can come there and buy bread, pastries, cured meats (…) and bring them home.
There is a terrace in the front and also an inner terrace. So it is quite big with a great choice of places to seat.

The prices are regular ones for a foreign restaurant.

The Mekong Merchant:

23 Thảo Điền,
District 2

4 Responses to “The Mekong Merchant, restaurant in Saigon”

  1. lam bang dai hoc gia re February 28, 2014 at 23:54 #

    Hey there! I know this is kinda off topic but I was wondering if
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    • eatingmodern March 1, 2014 at 16:31 #

      Do I have a captcha plugin ? Sorry, I didn’t even know… can’t really help :-$
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