The deep-fried frogs' legs which taste like really good fried chicken.
SINGAPORE - Until recently, good Vietnamese food in Singapore had been hard to find. One either braved the heat (and the rowdy uncles with their scantily dressed cocottes in tow) at the no-frills eateries along the seedier end of Joo Chiat Road, or tolerated the mediocrity of Vietnamese pho chain restaurants.
But, like Spanish food, Vietnamese cuisine seems to be enjoying an upswing in popularity as a clutch of several notable eateries has opened in the past year, including modern Vietnamese Nuoc on the rooftop garden of Orchard Central and the Les Amis Group's pricey Annam.
Now, offering more of a middle ground is week-old Little Saigon at Clarke Quay. Owned by the people behind the popular Pump Room and Highlander Bar, Little Saigon is perhaps better described as a chic bar that serves authentic Vietnamese food. That also means the food is generally served in small plates and great for munching over drinks. Vietnamese beer may seem a convenient match but Antipodean wines, cocktails and martinis are available, too.
And while there are the usual suspects, like a middling Saigon Party Platter (S$45) of grilled sugarcane prawns, fried spring rolls, and meatballs (among other things), there are also a few gems that will capture those with more intrepid taste buds.
The Saigon Party Platter consists of grilled sugarcane prawns, fried spring rolls, and meatballs.
Of particular note were the deep-fried frogs' legs (S$16). Yes, I'll say it: they tasted like chicken - but like really good fried chicken, happily crisp on the outside, succulent within and doused in a decadent and slightly sweet butter and onion sauce.
There was also a lovely beef and starfruit salad (S$17) that was a melange of refreshing textures and flavours. The thinly sliced starfruit was juicy and just a little sweet and tart, a wonderful foil to the slivers of beef and the sharp, spicy dressing redolent of lime, chillies and fish sauce.
Those who want a more substantial meal here have the option of two soups - the thicker sup hai san (S$12) with minced prawns, crabmeat and squid makes for a comforting bowl - as well as fried rice with chicken and prawns (S$16) and of course, pho bo (S$18).
Little Saigon's head chef Hoang hails from the south of Vietnam, where he says the soup stock for pho bo (Vietnamese beef noodle soup) is usually sweeter than its northern counterparts. And indeed, his is a flavourful bowl that offers a sweet endnote with each mouthful.
Desserts, on the other hand, needed more sugar, particularly the serving of tropical fruit (S$8) or dragonfruit (S$10) in coconut milk soup.
Little Saigon Bar & Restaurant
Where: Blk E, Clarke Quay #01-02 River Valley Road
Telephone: 6337 5585
Opening hours: Sunday to Thursday 5pm to 1am; Friday, Saturday and eve of public holidays 5pm to 2am