Anan Saigon Review: Ho Chi Minh City’s First Michelin Star Restaurant
— 15 September 2023

Anan Saigon Review: Ho Chi Minh City’s First Michelin Star Restaurant

— 15 September 2023
Nick Kenyon
WORDS BY
Nick Kenyon

Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon, isn’t your typical fine dining destination, but that doesn’t mean that foodies aren’t flocking to it (and Vietnam more widely) every year; searching for new and exciting flavours. Among the best and most enduring restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City, Anan Saigon is undoubtedly a name everyone will come across as they glean their guidebooks — with good reason.

Opened in 2017, Anan Saigon is the brainchild of Peter Cuong Franklin, an American-Vietnamese chef who has led a life that’s hard to imagine; such are the challenges he’s endured and triumphs he’s achieved. Born in the town of Da Lat, he was forced to flee his home at the end of the Vietnam War during the Fall of Saigon, after which he was adopted by an American family at the age of 12.

“Chef Peter”, as he’s affectionately known today, grew up in Connecticut, graduated from Yale University, and worked at Morgan Stanley as an investment banker; before deciding he wanted to become a chef and enrolling in the legendary French culinary institute, Le Cordon Bleu. He trained in restaurants in Thailand, the US, and Hong Kong; opening two other restaurants along the way, before eventually opening Anan Saigon.

Anan Saigon Review
(Image credit: Vietcetera)

Since then, Anan Saigon has earned Ho Chi Minh City’s first inclusion in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list in 2021; returning to the list in 2023, and then becoming the first and only restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City to attain a Michelin star — all in the same year. A serious CV, to say the least.

The restaurant is centrally located in District 1, but not in the most gentrified of areas as you might expect: instead, enjoying an address in Ho Chi Minh City’s old market, Chợ Cu. Spread across multiple levels, each of which has its own character, the building is a fine example of the Vietnamese skill in constructing extremely narrow mid-rise towers.

In total, I’ve been to Anan Saigon four times — three before it was awarded a Michelin star, and once afterwards — giving you something of an idea about where this review is going to go. If you can’t be bothered reading further, I’d definitely recommend you visit it when you’re in Ho Chi Minh City. If you’re keen to know more, read on.

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For the purposes of this review, I’ll be focusing on my most recent visit to Anan, but it’s also worth noting that my experience has been quite consistent every time I’ve eaten there. The only difference has been the difficulty in reserving a table, which before getting the Michelin announcement only required a couple of days’ notice. You’re now advised to plan several weeks in advance.

We ordered the Saigon Tasting Menu, which will set you back US$80 (AU$125) for eight courses, with the option of pairing two bottles of French wine (Moillard Chablis Premier Cru; Stephane Ogier Grenache Syrah Côtes du Rhône) for another US$165 (~AU$250). There’s also the option of Chef Peter’s Tasting Menu for US$125 (AU$195), which offers further courses and a wider range of dishes.

I’ve found the best way to think about the food at Anan Saigon is as a taste of a number of Vietnamese classics; with each course representing a different specialty from around Vietnam. However, instead of the entire dish, it’s miniaturised — and presented in a fine dining-fied format.

The Saigon Tasting Menu kicks off with a mini bánh mì housed in a wafer cracker, filled with sea urchin pate, wagyu beef and Oscietra Caviar, as well as a smoked salmon and salmon roe bánh nhúng. Both were extremely fresh, with the wafer cracker and the Vietnamese rosette pastry that the bánh nhúng arrived in crispy, yet set expertly to dissolve in the mouth.

Next up was the river prawn bánh xèo taco, combined with marinated and grilled pork, as well as lettuce that crunched alongside the taco shell. Do not forget to squeeze that lime. Then it was time for the last of entrees in the form of the bún chả Bordaine, presented in a spring roll format with more grilled pork, bún noodles and a savoury foam.

The main dishes were a little larger — but never in quantities that threaten to overwhelm you — with Chả cá Hà Nội (fresh black cod) leaving the kitchen first; arriving in a dill cream sauce with a dusting of turmeric. Perfectly cooked and delightfully balanced in its flavour profile.

The star of the show, despite the limp-looking broccoli stalk and garnish, was the 150-day grain-fed Black Angus, served on a bed of creamy mashed potato with pepper sauce from Phú Quốc. While it’s easily the best steak I’ve had in Vietnam (the bar isn’t particularly high); I’d go so far as to say it’s some of the best steak I’ve ever eaten period — perfectly cooked, flavour-loaded, and tender.

Finally, you arrive at a little sweetener before setting out into the warm, humid evening. Bánh cam (Vietnamese fried sesame balls) arrive with a little fruit salad, alongside the Vietnamese equivalent of caffè corretto. That is, a house-made coffee jelly (closer to Allen’s than Aeroplane) perched on top of cà phê sữa Marou dark chocolate mousse. The sharp zest of the fruit played nicely with the smoothness of the sesame balls, while the mousse brought the condensed milk flavour of cà phê sữa Vietnamese coffee to the fore.

Every time I’ve been to Anan Saigon I’ve gotten one of the set menus — incidentally once with George Wintle of Attica (who also loved it) — and on review, it’s been an excellent experience every time. It’s not Australian fine dining and it certainly isn’t European fine dining, instead bringing the hectic service and high-octane flames of South East Asian cuisine to a more contemporary pace.

Pictured: “One Bite” Pho is a molecular take on the eponymous classic, with black truffle and wagyu beef in a sphere of broth. Note that this isn’t part of the Saigon Tasting Menu.

Anan Saigon is a play of contrasts, at its heart. From the moment you step through the door, you leave behind the traffic, chaos, and free-wheeling market stalls; and are greeted by one of the most proficient hospitality settings in the city. Don’t mistake this for the kind of calm that you can hear clinking cutlery over — it’s more lively than any equivalent restaurant in Australia.

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More contrast is to be found in the fact that, while it’s almost certainly the most expensive meal you’ll eat whilst in Ho Chi Minh City, Anan Saigon also deserves a spot on our list of the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred restaurants. There’s a playful tension infused into what Anan Saigon does, which takes the quality of its food and the level of its service seriously — but never itself.

If you find yourself in Ho Chi Minh City and you’re looking for somewhere to enjoy a special meal, while also indulging in the full gamut of flavours that Vietnam has to offer, Anan Saigon should be at the top of your list.

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Nick Kenyon
WORDS by
Nick Kenyon is the Editor of Boss Hunting, joining the team after working as the Deputy Editor of luxury watch magazine Time+Tide. He has a passion for watches, with other interests across style, sports and more. Get in touch at nick (at) luxity.com.au

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