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Elegant Grilled Seafood Savored Amidst Saigon’s Skyline

Saigon’s charismatic stretch of neon skyscrapers shimmers in each direction makes one feel as if they have been transported into a movie that’s reaching its dramatic climax.

A large pool’s calm surface casts a soft blue glow across the rooftop and a light breeze whisks between potted ferns and a few intimate tables. The traffic far below exists as silent beads of light zipping down the roads in tune with the modern music lightly playing in the background. It’s a peaceful, romantic atmosphere that could never be replicated in an enclosed dining room or even on an isolated beach.

In Saigon’s competitive dining industry, new and established restaurants are forced to evolve to stand out, and ambiance can make all the difference. When Executive Chef Stephane Leforestier joined Sofitel Saigon Plaza five months ago, he saw the opportunity to capitalize on the centrally located hotel rooftop’s stunning view of the city and offer a meal that is unavailable anywhere else.

Straight from the Ocean to the Grill

Chef Stephane has had a long relationship with cooking seafood in his coastal French hometown, as well as in Nha Trang and Quy Nhon. While Saigon has plenty of fresh seafood, very few places serve it barbequed. Therefore, for his new menu, he decided to marry casual beachside barbeque flavors to the more elegant rooftop setting with creative flourishes and presentations. Once he had designed and had a special dual gas and charcoal grill custom-built, it was time to open.

When Saigoneer visited for dinner earlier this month, we were treated to the premium set dinner. It began with tender Hokkaido scallops whose richness was offset by the subtle acidic nature of fresh Da Lat tomatoes and an avocado siphon. Chef Stephane notes that a large number of the hotel’s dining guests are Vietnamese and, as opposed to French guests, prefer their foie gras warm. Thus, the second course consisted of carefully grilled duck liver resting atop tart apples. A perfectly plump half Nha Trang lobster splashed with a Spanish espelette pepper sauce that provided an extra hint of smoke followed.

Many diners are growing tired of extravagant, experimental items, but are also not interested in returning to completely traditional French food, Chef Stephane has observed. To cater to these evolving tastes, he embraces a style that he explains is situated somewhere between bistro and gastronomy. The fourth course exemplifies this description. Tender veal imported from Holland was given a modern flourish with a silky crab polenta and urchin butter. The meal concluded with a refreshing grilled almond brioche accented by raspberries; a relative rarity in the city.

Making Guests Feel Special

Each item of the filling meal complemented one another, the different dishes following the other like movements in a symphony performance. But a key element of Sofitel’s luxury BBQ dinners is making guests feel special, and the chefs are happy to make a custom menu if given enough notice. Similarly, while the dinners are typically only held on Fridays from 6pm until 9 pm and require two days advanced booking, since the seafood is flown in fresh and never frozen, they will open on another day if a guest desires. And while it’s well suited to romantic evenings, the dining experience can also accommodate large groups of friends or co-workers at large tables.

“It’s easy to replace the head, but finding new hands is a challenge,” Chef Stephanie says when explaining the importance of having well-trained staff and helping them improve their skills to keep them passionate about their work. When arriving at the restaurant, guests pass the array of meticulously selected seafood on display, and during their meals can see the team deftly attending to the grill. Similarly, the waiters politely explained each dish and were quick to notice when the last sip of wine left a glass.

The frenzy of neon lights and cranes reaching into the distance one sees atop the Sofitel roof reminds one of what a fast-paced city Saigon is. In such a climate, after a long work week, it’s nice to take a moment to rest and pamper oneself a bit. Sofitel’s premier rooftop BBQ offers the ideal setting to savor the view, cherish time with friends or loved ones, and indulge in elegant food that is carefully grilled.

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