A French classic coming to Saigon
A classic French bistro in Saigon, the first of it's kind I believe, and a very good one on top of that.
Tucked away in what I call the nail hẻm, since there is an assortment of small nail studios along the entrance way of the alley, Cocotte is a well hidden pearl very close to Ben Thanh Market. And that tractor table is simply awesome! But before that, let's start from the very beginning.
It began with a review on the internet, where one of our trusted foodies posted a couple pictures and gave his very trustworthy approval. You know, I am always sceptic with French stuff in Saigon, because everybody thinks they can cook French and then they charge premium rates for a tough rooster that has been drowned in red wine. But you see, to find the bling among the rocks you need to keep up hope, and that is exactly what we did.
So we decided to visit Cocotte. Fortunately we knew the alley already, because things like small entrances are easily overlooked in the colourful clutter we love so much about Southeast Asia. It is on Le Thanh Ton street on the right side, right before you reach Ben Thanh Market. Once you enter and pass an array of nail shops, you get to some sort of inner courtyard and right there it is: Cocotte.
A Slice of Countryside in the Centre of the City
The design and feel of the place tells a story from the countryside in France and it is the simplicity that makes it far more charming than many other restaurants by comparison. It is hard to describe what's different, but let me try. For example everybody who ever worked in a European restaurant knows how the place mat is put directly in front of the customer, where the knife, the fork and the spoon goes and so on.
At Cocotte they break with the conventions and make it simple, which intensifies this feeling of countryside or small village that is lingering between your ears and setting you at peace with the world.
You know, things being simple is rare nowadays, especially in Saigon and with foreign cuisine.
We ordered from the menu, but if your French is better than mine, you may order right from the blackboard on the wall, where they also have the daily specials.
Now let's talk about the food. We had a French onion soup which was the probably best French onion soup I ever had. I remember when I myself worked at that restaurant (a long time ago), we had this type on the menu at times, but it can't compare to the lovely pot with properly caramelised and deliciously prepared soup here.
Then there was a duck, vegetable and noodle soup. The little rascal loved that one a lot, and we did as well. A wonder that we didn't end up fighting over it.
Salad Nicoise. I like this type of salad and at Cocotte it's prepared in a very... "polite" way. Anchovies, tuna and a slight touch of dressing to the vegetables makes it a perfect, light summer dish. Now bear in mind that the duck soup as well as the salad came with fantastic, homemade bread aside.
Then there was the duck confit with crispy potato cubes. No nonsense, no frills. It was a duck leg, potatoes and a portion of mustard extra. And it was delicious. The meat fell right off the bone and was so unbelievably soft and tender that even now that I am sitting here writing, my mouth starts to water again.
For dessert we chose a crème brûlée and a chocolate fondant with crème anglaise. Now the chocolate fondant was top notch and the ladies devoured it quite fast. However the crème brûlée was even better than the one I had back then in Hong Kong - and that was the best so far.
The pricing is absolutely reasonable, affordable and amazing. Together with 1/8 of the very nice house wine, we paid 465.000đ for a great meal for two adults and our little daughter. The concept of Cocotte is to stay affordable while providing great food at the same time.
All in all, our verdict is "absolutely recommended" and you should really check it out. This is your "great bistro around the corner" you've been waiting for all these years - and I just added it to my personal list of lunch break options, since you can probably imagine, I am eager to return.
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