The Pourcel Brothers – Twin Michelin 3-Star Chefs Launch Their First Vietnam Venture

Jardin Des Sens
30 years on after the opening of the legendary Jardin Des Sens in Montpellier by Jacques and Laurent Pourcel, Michelin 3-star twin chefs, the second Jardin Des Sens appears in Saigon and houses itself at 251 Dien Bien Phu, District 3. Although the Pourcels have many restaurants in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore, and Tokyo, it is in Saigon that the these ambassadors for French cuisine abroad have stationed their flagship restaurant for Asia.

“The original Jardin Des Sens in Montpellier is closed now and will be reopened in 2019 after the building gets renovated. So right now, the only Jardin Des Sens is right here,” stresses Constantin Huby, the restaurant’s Sales & Marketing Manager. Much smaller in scale (with 38 seats compared to the 80 seats in the Montpellier restaurant), Jardin Des Sens Saigon is nevertheless housed in a breathtaking venue. The interior with its sun-soaked windows and modern chandeliers, feels like an orchestra of lights with its figurative heart at the base of the double staircase – a newly built wine cellar in glass panes, containing 100 different kinds of excellent French wine, far exceeding the usual number of 20 kinds in other restaurants. The Pourcel brothers, sons of a winemaker, are famed for selecting their wines as the crown jewels of the feasts they prepare for guests.

Constantine Huby

Constantin Huby. Photography by Thuy Ca.

While Laurent Pourcel mostly stays in Montpellier, Jacques has visited Vietnam more than ten times. After his initial visits in Vietnam for food festivals, Jacques found he enjoyed Saigon quite a bit and captured the opportunity to work with SonKim Land, a premier real estate corporation in Vietnam. While Saigon’s Jardin Des Sens will be the one and only in Asia, Pourcel-Château group will open 19 more restaurants on SonKim Land properties. The next one, coming within the next three months, is Mama Sens. After that, in October, Terminal #2, a French bistro (a follow up to the pop-up restaurant Terminal #1 in Montpellier), will open by Saigon river, where visitors can watch the dreamy waters coil beneath them. The next one is Cafe Francais (first opened in Colombo, Sri Lanka). And finally, Carré Mer, moored to the riverside, will have guests brought to them by boats. Within the next five years, these concept restaurants will be multiplied around Vietnam.

Jacques Pourcel

Jacques Pourcel. Photography by Thuy Ca.

Explaining the Pourcel brand’s expansive ventures in Vietnam, Jacques Pourcel says he hopes to bring a sense of discovery to the culinary experiences here, saying: “Vietnamese people want to try the real French cuisine.” Since the market is still wide open to famous chefs and high-end restaurants (Jardin Des Sens is the only restaurant in Vietnam owned by Michelin 3-star chefs), Pourcel sees that there is still much to do and feels heartened by how much Vietnamese want to work with him.

This April, he has arrived in Saigon to oversee the transition between Thierry Alix, who has worked for ten years with the Pourcels, and Richard Toix, a Michelin 1 star chef, as the head chef of Jardin Des Sens. Not only will Toix cook everyday at Jardin Des Sens, he will also manage the entire Pourcel operation in Vietnam. His wife, Laure, with whom he opened and bought several restaurants in France will work on the burgeoning Mama Sens project.
Jardin Des Sens exterior.

Jardin Des Sens exterior. Photography supplied by Jardin Des Sens.

Four days into his new adventure in Vietnam, Toix already has plan for a new menu at Jardin Des Sens, which will launch at the end of April. While the first menu of the previous four months was a test run still shy of the local produce, this new menu will introduce more heavily the organic ingredients grown and harvested in Vietnam, while still preserving the principles of French and Mediterranean cuisine. Blue legged shrimps, for instance, one of the biggest prawns in the world, with as fine a taste as the lobster, and native to the freshwater of Can Tho, will be introduced to tables at Jardin Des Sens. More humble ingredients like straw mushrooms will also be reinvented as the stars of new dishes, and gourmet vegetarian recipes will appear in response to popular demand. This approach is consistent with the Pourcel’s belief in adapting to Vietnamese market and taste. Jacques, especially, splits his time in Vietnam between Saigon and Da Lat, which he calls “the farm of Vietnam”.

To kick off this new era, Pourcel and Toix will host three nights of Four Hands Michelin Dinner in a very busy weekend for Saigon gourmets, before jetting off to Singapore for another food festival. Quite a remarkable April and possibly year for the restaurant scene in Saigon and Vietnam.
Jardin Des Sens interior

Photography supplied by Jardin Des Sens.

Regarding the restaurant, outside of which a gregarious old lady is selling sugarcane juice, a beloved but humble beverage, one has to marvel at the charming contrast that perhaps exists nowhere else in the world. Between Michelin starred French recipes and Vietnamese premium produce, heritage colonial house and rapidly developing city, nostalgia and modern reinventions, Jardin Des Sens Saigon offers the kind of experiences not quite limited to what’s on the tables.

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