bar at Bread&Butter just before the dinner rush. — VNS
pancakes with stir-fried vegetables and marinated tofu.
40/24 Bui Vien St, Dist1, HCM City
9am - 10.30pm
VND55,000 - 75,000
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
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