Imagine this conversation. Someone starts off with the classic question, “So what are we gonna eat today?” After pho, pasta, sushi, and other well-worn options are rebuffed, another suggestion comes up. “Let’s go to the other place.” Just like that, The Other Place, like Harry Potter’s Platform 9 3/4 or one of those gadgets from Doraemon’s pocket, magically materialises in Ton That Dam’s old market. It’s here you can find dishes with Japanese ingredients, cooked using French techniques, and drizzled in Chinese-inspired sauces.
According Vicky Lam, The Other Place’s co-founder, that was actually how she and her team got the idea for the restaurant. She had met Son Nguyen, the head chef, at Anan Saigon, where they worked together as part of the opening team. “We got to talk, hang out, and shared a lot of good food around Saigon together. By that, I mean we spent all of our salaries eating out.” Between meals and gruelling service hours at Anan Saigon, they decided that it was time for something new.
After two months of brunch-only service, the crew at The Other Place are ready to shake things up. Every day after service, Nguyen and Lam, as well as most of the staff, stay behind and work on their dinner menu. While brunches can be relatively easy-going, dinners will be all about “flavour-bombs”, as Lam describes. There’s the umami-packed continental styled beef sukiyaki, with the beef broth reduced to a thick sauce, roasted asparaguses, and a soft-boiled egg to be spooned onto a slice of sourdough bread. There’s the tsukemen with confit duck leg and broth. “The soba is Japanese. The dough recipe is American. The noodle-making machine is Italian. The confit technique is French.”
Although his works seem at first like a random mishmash of influences, chef Nguyen is not carried away or undisciplined. “Usually a Japanese recipe, for instance, comes to my mind, and I try to think of what I’d do differently, how I’d improve it.” Then he’d incorporate some surprising European or Vietnamese techniques and ingredients to rather memorable and pleasing ends. Soon he’d commence work on a tsukemen pho. “I make it much more intense than the traditional pho, with broth set aside, like that style of ramen.” In the ground-flour, with matching flourishes, the bartender devise sophisticated cocktails like the Plum Fiction, with fermented apricots and salted plums, which should be paired with the duck tsukemen.
Nestled behind a chaotic wet market, The Other Place can be found 93 Ton That Dam, Ben Nghe, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City.