COCONUTS CRITIC’S TABLE — Saigon Street in Bali’s trendy Petitenget hood is arguably one of the most buzzed-about restaurants on the island at the moment.
The “classic Vietnamese with a modern spin” restaurant has been getting plenty of rave reviews from adoring food bloggers and pictures of the colorful eatery can be found spreading all over Bali’s Instagram-sphere, since it opened up in mid-2015.
But was all this praise just people jumping on the bandwagon? After all, the owner, Aki Kotzamichalis, was a founding partner of Ku De Ta, while Head Chef Geoff Lindsay is the exec chef and owner of a critically acclaimed Vietnamese restaurant in Melbourne (Dandelion). Certainly, these people already have a reputation for success and have tons of connections and resources in the Bali-Oz contingent, so growing followers based on reputation alone wouldn’t be too hard for them.
Coconuts Bali set out on a Wednesday night to anonymously investigate whether this Seminyak hot spot lived up to all the chatter.
Immediately when you walk up to Saigon Street, the first thing that will likely strike you is the restaurant’s colorful, whimsical style. Green is the restaurant’s apparent base color, looking from the walls to the furniture—but it’s absolutely not the only color!
Next thing you’ll notice is how lively (and noisy) it is. We’re not sure whether the echoey acoustics are on purpose or not, but we suspect they’re emulating the loud and vibrant streets of Ho Chi Minh, where the restaurant’s name comes from. Which is why we’ll say right up front: Saigon Street is not the place where you take a romantic date to have a deep conversation late into the night. The experience there places value first and foremost on the food and the setting is a fun one, not an overly serious one—which is why the restaurant has apparently self-proclaimed itself as “fun dining.”
Getting handed the menu, it was nearly impossible to make a selection. Numerous options literally made our mouths water, like their famous Pok Pok (chicken wings, crispy fried with sweet chilli) and duck legs slow cooked with sugarcane juice, pineapple and Phu Quoc pepper, sawtooth coriander.
However, in the end, we landed on the wrap & roll sampler (better to get a taste of everything!), the roast pork & prawn banh xeo, and the mahi mahi filets off their “coconut grill.”
Of the wrap sampler, the tuna tartare & wasabi leaf one knocked it out of the park: fresh AF, acidic, and just the right amount of zing. The enoki, shrimp & oyster mushrooms was equally fresh and tasty, while the Peking duck & school prawn was fatty and flavorful. The chicken and shrimp summer roll left something to be desired—the roll was bland and just couldn’t compare to the flavor fireworks of the other three. We recommend giving the chicken and shrimp one to the person in your group who has a mild palate and isn’t into big, bold flavors.
Thankfully Saigon Street quickly impressed with the next two courses.
The banh xeo, a crispy Vietnamese pancake, that we got served with roast pork and prawn, sweet chili, and of course those trademark Vietnamese bean sprouts was a challenge to eat—gracefully cutting up the crunchy pancake is about as easy as cutting into a crispy taco shell, then you have to wrap it up in a piece of lettuce. But hey, we don’t mind making a mess if the food is worth it and the banh xeo defo was. We wish there were more pieces of the roast pork in there, because that juicy piece of meat had to be one of the best bites of the evening.
Next came the mahi mahi filet, straight off the grill. The firm fish was beautifully grilled but the fresh and fruity notes of the scented mango and avocado leaves, along with the young coconut and tangy garlic chive dressing blended harmoniously together to really make the dish.
This was one of the plates where it really made sense why Saigon Street gets so much recognition for playing with flavors and serving the freshest of fresh ingredients.
Sure, we have some criticisms of the place, but nothing too crippling. So to answer our big question, of whether the Petitenget establishment is deserving of all the buzz, we’d have to say, “Pasti dong!” (hell yeah!).
—Do yourself a solid and make a reservation, especially if you have a larger group and have plans to go on a weekend night. We went on a Wednesday and still wound up at the large “community table.”
—It’s hella cold by the community table, like the giant AC is on full blast. Bring an extra layer or opt to sit either outside or upstairs if you can’t take the cold.
—Check their takeaway menu, especially for desserts! The options aren’t all the same as what’s on the regular dessert menu and are cheaper. We ate our desserts in-house and got the molten chocolate and salted caramel pudding with almond ice cream and honeycomb and the Baked Saigon (meringue coated passionfruit sorbet with chic-mint ice cream and mango sauce). The meringue was delish, with the passionfruit being the dominant flavor, but you’d best share it because it’s giant and super rich. The molten cake was the better choice of the two and should please every lava-cake lover.
—Service is outstanding. They’ve clearly been trained thoroughly. Our waiter knew what was up with the menu, was very attentive and quick, checked in regularly (but not overly so) with us, and had a quick recovery when another wait staff brought out the wrong drink to us.
—The bathroom game at Saigon Street is on point. We didn’t expect much, but dayum Gina, those toilets were clean as heck and they have an attendant ready to keep things in tip top shape.
—Prices are expensive but fair. They’re not higher than anything else you’ll find in the area and you’re getting what you pay for with the fresh local ingredients. If you’re here on vacay from Oz for Europe, then dining here is frankly a steal compared to what you’re used to back home.
—Sadly, the biggest disappointment of the night was the Saigon-style iced coffee. What they brought out was like a watery latte you could find in almost any “Western cafe” in Indonesia. Yes, it did have the proper filter, but where was the sludgy, thick coffee we adore from the real Saigon streets?
—On the flip side, our martini was one of the highlights of the evening. We got the “Bang Bang,” a cool & hot combo of chili infused vodka, cucumber vodka, with muddled cucumber. You could literally taste both refreshing and spicy flavors so crisply and distinctly in each sip. Ten out of five.
Coconut’s Critics Table reviews are done anonymously. We pay for our own meals – no freebies here.
Jl. Petitenget 77X, Kerobokan
+62 (361) 897 4007
Restaurant open 7 days
from 11am to 1am daily