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Miss Thu: A Culinary Blending of Saigon with the World

It's a story-led restaurant.

Born in Saigon sometime in the late 1970s, Miss Thu had a pleasant childhood scampering around an apartment block with her friends, sitting on the back of her parent’s vintage motorbike for rides to and from school and savoring simple street food alongside home-cooked meals. She was privileged to go abroad. She explored foreign arts, cultures, and cuisines from around the world before returning to Saigon.

 An adolescence spent in Saigon followed by world travel and eventual return to start a business such as a restaurant is a common trajectory for people born in Vietnam in the later half of the 20th Century. Miss Thu, located on the top floor of Fusion Orignal Saigon Centre is an embodiment of the culinary experience that balances tradition and modernity that a theoretical Miss Thu would open. It serves foods that satisfy nostalgic cravings for childhood meals along with refined tastes developed during time spent globetrotting.

If miss Thu were an actual person, she would no doubt feel instantly comfortable when stepping into the namesake restaurant she founded. The checkerboard floor would remind her of the hallways of the apartment building she spent hours tossing marbles on while the hand fan patterns on the windows and ceiling quai thao shapes would call to mind the sophisticated, Vietnamese sense of elegance she grew up admiring. Meanwhile, the chic table settings and spacious dining arrangement are similar to the trendy restaurants she visited in New York, Sydney or Paris during her years abroad.

To create a menu that would please the pallet of the fictional Miss Thu, chef Arnaud Daleau relied on his own life journey that is a bit like hers in reverse. Born and raised in France, Daleau cut his culinary teeth in Michelin-starred kitchens before venturing abroad to Australia and finally landing in Saigon a few years ago. Along with Tri, his long-time second-in-command, and Miss Thu’s dedicated Vietnamese staff, he set about designing dishes with the philosophy that “I have the idea, they have the taste.”

Upon first perusal of the menu, guests will likely be drawn to the bắp xào seabass. The combination of street food standby and fish often found in fine-dinning establishments certainly caught our eye during a visit last month. Arnaud prepared it for us while explaining how it really exemplifies what they try to accomplish with the entire dining experience. At initial glance, the deftly plated dish complete with baby corn would seem most at home in one of the Michelin-starred restaurants where he'd worked, yet the flavors are straight out off a street cart accompanied by the iconic bắp xào vendor call blaring on repeat.

Miss Thu’s menu features scribbled handnotes that underscore the restaurant’s storyline. For example, “my last bite before travelling,” is scrawled beside the eggplant, the Phú Quốc Pepper used for the Iberico pork is “my favorite spice,” and the Sài Gòn scallops are accompanied by the claim that “Best place in Saigon: Nguyen Thien Thanh, D3.” Such annotations help prepare guests for items that are representative of the city’s rich and varied culinary traditions. Arnaud says he hopes that foreign guests will appreciate the local flavors but the real thrill is having Saigoneers recognize familiar tastes they grew up with, even when they arrive on a plate with an elevated western appearance.

While most of the items on the menu contain both Vietnamese and western elements reminiscent of someone trying to re-create a favorite meal outside of the country they first encountered it, a few are more straight-foward items from Miss Thu’s imagined journeys abroad. For example, in Japan she would have developed an appreciation for king crab and thus ordered it whenever and wherever she sees it. Similarly, when Miss Thu traveled to Argentina she would have fallen in love with chimichurri and thus the Argentian beef tenderloin aims to capture the experience of ordering it in a traditional Argentian BBQ restaurant.

Arnaud emphasizes how the restaurant’s concept succeeds by merging creativity and collaboration. A perfect example is the "Tiramissthu" he made for Saigoneer. Delightfully dark and bitter phin coffee is poured onto a layer of Marou chocolate in a Burgundy glass, melting it enough to splash down onto a rich layer of mascarpone and cookie. The cream helps cut the coffee’s bitter notes while the subtle sweetness is in line with Vietnamese preferences for desserts that do not go overboard on sugar. It’s a bold, intriguing take on a tiramisu that is worth visiting for alone.

One may not associate such a unique and delicious dining experience like Miss Thu’s with a hotel restaurant at the top of a shopping mall, but its a bit like how some of the city’s best street food is found at the end of a twisting hẻm with a nondescript entrance. Similar to those beloved spots, Miss Thu caters to people with a variety of backgrounds and associations with the dishes as long as they appreciate a fantastically-made meal.

Miss Thu's website

Miss Thu's Facebook Page

+84 (0) 837 831 900

Fusion Original Saigon Centre, 24th Floor, 65 Lê Lợi, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Saigon