Saturday, November 17 2018

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Casual or fine dining, RJ has it all

Update: November, 04/2018 - 07:00
Line-caught Mediterranean amberjack fish with organic carrot, almond and ginger was offered by acclaimed visiting chef Francesco Gasbarro. VNS photo Minh Phi
Viet Nam News

Taste the exquisite flavours of authentic Italian recipes at R&J’s luxury lounge and restaurant at the Reverie Saigon in downtown HCM City. Mỹ Duyên reports. 

When a close friend of mine told me that I would be the only one invited to R&J for her birthday anniversary, I was curious. “Why R&J? Anything special about it?”

She described it as a fine destination where you can experience exceptional Italian cuisine in a fine dining ambiance. “And one more reason is that it’s a memorable experience. I met my husband there,” she added. 

“Wow, it sounds romantic,” I said. From that moment on, I was so excited that I couldn’t wait until we explored R&J at the Reverie Saigon hotel.

Taking its name from Shakespeare’s epic romance, Romeo and Juliet, the newly redesigned restaurant on the downtown walking street of Nguyễn Huệ is primed to stoke the passion not only of lovers but also business colleagues and friends.   

Prepared under the watchful eye of renowned Italian chefs, the menu at R&J features traditional Italian recipes, using the finest seasonal produce and presented with flair.

Michelin-starred chef Francesco Gasbarro completed a four-day culinary residency at the R&J restaurant in HCM City in mid-October. VNS photo Minh Phi

Thanks to its recent renovation, the R&J Italian Lounge & Restaurant at the Times Square Building has emerged as a multi-level, multi-experience dining destination.

Arranged on three levels, the distinctive 100-seat restaurant and 42-seat lounge guide guests on a journey from a pre-dinner aperitif through casual or formal dining to a comfortable post-meal relaxation.

The lounge, which is on the ground and mezzanine level, includes a casual dining area where guests can eat at a counter while watching chefs in the open kitchen, and a cozy lounge for an after-dinner drink.

The main feature of the lounge’s menu is fresh seafood, accompanied by an extensive list of some of the world’s finest Champagnes and sparkling wines. Some of the seasonal seafood on offer includes oysters and lobsters from Canada and Nha Trang in Việt Nam, Oscietra caviar, soft-shell crabs, Alaska king crabs, and John Dory and Dover sole.  

The restaurant on the B1 level remains the city’s premier Italian fine dining experience.

Though the menu may evoke home-style dining, the atmosphere is full of flair, from walls of vibrant Italian mosaics to extravagant candelabras and a whimsical collection of dining chairs that celebrate 40 distinctive corners of Italy.

My colleague and I were impressed with the layout and lighting when we first stepped into the lounge and restaurant. The designs evoked something that was “very Italian”. 

Aside from set menus and a la carte items finely prepared by a resident Italian chef,  R&J’s specialties include imported caviar, classic condiments and squid ink bread; Canadian Baynes Sound oysters, on ice or baked; French Fine de Claire oysters, on ice or baked; prawns with Prosecco, garlic, chilli and cherry tomato sauce; and Nha Trang lobsters, baked or grilled.

The Pescato del Giorno (fish of the day) can be cooked to your choice, either salt-crusted, grilled or baked.

Michelin-starred chef

Luckily, our visit to R&J coincided with a four-day culinary residency of Francesco Gasbarro, the first Michelin-starred chef hosted by R&J.

From his restaurant La Bottega in Geneva, Gasbarro brought his free-style approach to Italian cuisine, showcasing some of his signature dishes for a five-course wine dinner and a six-course set menu made with the highest-quality ingredients, including those brought from his own overseas sources.

Since I rarely have a big dinner, my friend and I decided to share a six-course menu priced at VNĐ1,488,000++ (for one person).

Our meal started with a slow-cooked organic egg, cauliflower and truffle dish. The chef’s innovative recipe was delicate and stunning from its look to its taste thanks to the premium ingredients. I had never eaten an egg that softly cooked, but the dish was my favourite part of the meal.   

R&J offers traditional Italian recipes using the finest seasonal produce, presented with flair. VNS photo Minh Phi
R&J’s fine dining restaurant provides private luxury booths for diners.VNS photo Minh Phi

Gasbarro, who began his culinary education early, opened his first restaurant in the Campo di Marte area of Florence, before teaming up with Paulo Airaudo to open La Bottega, which was awarded a Michelin star just five months after opening in 2015.

Gasbarro’s aim is to redefine Italian food. “While it is firmly rooted in tradition, I’m not constrained by tradition,” he said.

Our next two dishes were homemade pigeon cappelletti with butter and fresh thyme, and spaghetti with smoked lapsang souchong tea, pumpkin and pecorino.

I was amazed with the chef’s inventiveness and artistry, and the pleasing textures and flavours. It was no surprise that, as lovers of traditional Italian noodles, we ate every last bit of our pasta dishes, which were the best I had ever had.

Next up were two flavourful delicacies: line-caught Mediterranean amberjack fish with organic carrot, almond and ginger, and USDA first-choice beef rib-eye with Đà Lạt sweet potato and onion.

The depth of flavour of these dishes was outstanding. At first, I was reluctant to try the beef, which was cooked rare, but it was truly magnificent. It would have even been better with a wine that was suggested for us on the menu, but we chose not to indulge!  

Though we were full, we couldn’t resist sampling the dessert (hay – yes, real hay - ice cream, Piedmont hazelnuts and passion fruit), a delectable homemade dish.

A long list of snacks is also on offer at R&J, starting from VNĐ48,000++ (for Nha Trang Fine de Claire oysters on ice at the oyster bar).

Dining at R&J, where the warmest hospitality was combined with finest ingredients and amazing food, was an unforgettable experience. Though the six-course set dinner was a bit expensive for our budgets, it was well worth the price. VNS

 

R&J Italian Lounge & Restaurant

Address: B1, Ground & Mezzanine levels, Times Square Building,

22-36 Nguyễn Huệ Blvd & 57- 69F Đồng Khởi Street, District 1, HCM City

Tel: (028) 3823 6688

Hours:  5pm - midnight (lounge)

            6pm - 10pm (restaurant)

Comment: Central location, casual and fine dining, elegant ambiance and impeccable service. A dress code policy is applied; children under the age of 12 are not permitted.

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