“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.
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.
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.
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”.