Sunday, January 20 2019


Let them eat bread (and butter)

Update: April, 16/2006 - 00:00

Dining Out

Countertop dining: The bar at Bread&Butter just before the dinner rush. — VNS Photos

Veggie delight: Polenta pancakes with stir-fried vegetables and marinated tofu.


Address: 40/24 Bui Vien St, Dist1, HCM City

Tel: 08-8368452

Hours: 9am - 10.30pm

Price: VND55,000 - 75,000


Let them eat bread (and butter)

Tucked away on the backpacker stomping ground of Pham Ngu Lao, sits a place worthy of the city’s more settled denizens. Christine Buckley stuffs her face.

HCM City residents usually fall into one of two camps when it comes to the subject of Pham Ngu Lao: they either adore the place and consequently while away their evenings swilling cheap beer in its boisterous bars and soaking up the latest travel tips from dreadlocked backpackers – or, if they’re like me, shun it completely.

My unspoken decision to avoid the area after moving to the city two years ago came from a vague sense that something there was amiss. As someone who rode the subways of New York City during the early ‘80s, the sleazy aspect of the neighbourhood doesn’t trouble me too much. It’s more the palpable absence of enthusiasm you detect in the movements of Pham Ngu Lao denizens: they seem busy waiting for nothing to happen.

Yet here, nestled amongst the sea of countless cafeterias serving decent biryanis, burritos, bruschetta and beans-n-toast, is the sole reason I will venture into this depressing district: bread and butter.

Bread&Butter, in this case, is a restaurant about to celebrate its year anniversary (April 15) based on the motto: "Because man cannot live on bread alone!"

Indeed. And he shan’t, should he be fortunate enough to eat his three squares at B&B. I have visited several times, and have yet to be disappointed – unless you count last night, when I had to leave before Sarah’s lemon tart came out of the oven.

Conveying something of the ambience of a cosy French bistro, the place is run by amiable Australian Quentin Derrick and his wife Ngoc Lan. A former chef who happens to be an academic co-ordinator at ILA, Quentin gave himself a break from behind the stove in February by hiring Sarah Wilkinson, who brings her Mancunian flair to many of the dishes. Let me just list a few of those for you, none of which will fail to please a palette homesick for home cooking. My favourite is the vegetarian polenta pancake with stir-fried julienne vegetables, marinated tofu, sweet corn, green bean and mint salad. Pure bliss; and enough to make me swear off meat for at least a week.

How, a carnivorous friend and I wondered over a recent meal, during which the soothing harmonies of indie-rock band The Shins sprung from the speakers, could the owners afford to offer such a whopping portion of Argentinean beef fillet with potato mash, spinach and pepper sauce for less than US$5? Why does Quentin play the songs we like instead of the nightmarish elevator music mix favoured by nearly every other establishment in this city? Maybe I shouldn’t ask.

Instead, I’ll continue to get people together at Bread&Butter for Huda beers at the bar tables overlooking the action on the alley. Or go upstairs and unwind gradually under the dim lights over my plate of scallop, prawn and mango salad with fried noodles and tomato salsa while Jerzy contentedly devours every last bit of his kangaroo pie. How about honey soy marinated pork loin with sweet potato puree, corn fritter and courgette ribbons? Are we in Pham Ngu Lao or Sydney?

For those afraid of too many adjectives with their entrees, the menu also features manly fodder like fish and chips and an Aussie beef burger with egg, bacon and cheese. Meat avoiders can choose from a roasted vegetable sandwich on a bagel or a veggie cheeseburger with fries.

Too impatient to wait for that lemon tart, last night Gulschan and I walked over to Bobby Brewers and caught each other up while indulging in perfect decaf vanilla lattes. But the lighting was too bright, the air conditioning cranked up too high, and Bryan Adams was busy poisoning the sound system. We rushed our conversation and reminded ourselves that all good things are worth the wait. — VNS

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