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Creativity and Quality Surprise at Mai House’s Affordable Seafood Buffet

Unripe mangosteen chicken salad has been all over Vietnamese social media during the past few weeks, though we didn’t expect to find it at an upscale hotel dinner buffet. But across from the sushi and beside a spread of European cheeses at Mai House, there it was: the newest trend ready for tasting. The semi-sweet fruit generously spread amongst moist chicken and fresh vegetables was an interesting item indeed, but the biggest surprise was finding it at a style of dining one typically associates with conventional recipes. The dish thus exemplifies Mai House’s creativity and responsiveness.

Mai House is an independent boutique hotel nestled between colonial villas in District 3. Founded by a self-made Vietnamese businessman, unlike other luxury hotels in the city that belong to global hospitality groups, it can make decisive choices that allow it to quickly adapt to visitor preferences. Such flexibility extends to C’est La Vie, the hotel’s dining room that is currently offering an exquisite seafood buffet on Friday and Saturday evenings.

C’est La Vie’s Executive Chef, Lâm Quốc Huy, explained to Saigoneer that the independent ownership allows him and his team to be flexible in what they serve. For example, during our many buffet visits over the years, Saigoneer has never encountered a salmon Wellington or cajun shrimp in a salad. Before arriving at Mai House, Huy spent time working in Hanoi and has traveled around the country to explore different dining trends and regional flavor profiles that he brings into the restaurant. He explained that he wants guests to find Northern or Central dishes they may have heard about but never had a chance to try, like Hanoi bún chả made with turmeric. The variety extends beyond Vietnam as seen in the many French and European desserts as well as Chinese noodle, rice and seafood dishes.

Supporting the culinary exploration is high-quality ingredients, particularly meat and seafood. Live seabass arrives at the hotel at 3pm for that evening’s service alongside daily fresh salmon. The Nha Trang lobster, Pacific oysters, dungress crab, green mussels, clams, crayfish and black tiger shrimps are recently caught and whisked down to the city as well to be paired with nine distinctive Mai House sauces. The ingredients help support an especially expansive sushi and sashimi area. When spread out in a beautiful display at the entrance to the dining room, there is no question of the seafood’s quality.

Guests may be initially skeptical about the quality of the ingredients given the seafood buffet’s price tag of 699,000++ VND. But the hotel explains that a combination of factors allows them to price the meal well below other buffets in town. Being independent helps them work strategically with suppliers to get certain prices. But more importantly, the seafood buffet is an opportunity to introduce the hotel to people living in Saigon as well as tourists. Mai House had the unfortunate luck of opening mere months before the Covid-19 pandemic closed the nation’s borders and set the hospitality industry into a tailspin. After two long years “asleep,” the hotel is now aiming to acquaint itself with guests and the seafood buffet is the perfect way to make a great first impression.

The price, quality and creativity of dishes should be enough to bring curious diners in the door, but what might leave the greatest lasting impression is the service as seen in small details. While many buffets can boil, steam, fry and prepare lobster and seafood to order, few have a streamlined ordering system that allows guests to wait comfortably at their seats while waiting for their food to arrive. And even more unique, the buffet has large cuts of Australian beef loin and local pork ribs waiting to be prepared to one’s exact preferences. An impressive number of local chefs work the open flames, refill items and assist visitors.

Mai House’s emphasis on service relates to its name. The boutique hotel contains a home-like charm where visitors can feel as comfortable as if they were sitting at their parent’s dining room table. Small details help establish this vibe. The colorful tile floor appears straight out of the 1980s and 90s Saigon apartments. Wooden ceiling fans compliment traditional serving bowls and utensils like those accompanying family meals that hang as decoration beside chairs accented with simple whicker elements. Sampling an unctuous spread of luxury items feels particularly special when eating them in a place with a sense of familial comfort.

The mood in C’est La Vie gains another dimension as visitors reach it via the inspiring lobby. A large chandelier hangs over the spiral staircase, live piano music flaunts through the air and plush nooks invite guests to sit and sip coffee or simply relax. Unsurprisingly, the location has proven popular on social media networks amongst influencers seeking to capture the nexus of modern elegance and colonial concepts of luxury.

Saigon Diners in the mood for an indulgent weekend seafood buffet have plenty of options. Mai House’s convenient location in District 3 places it a comfortable and quiet distance from the hectic downtown and the charming neighborhood reinforces the quaint atmosphere found in the dining room. With especially fresh seafood, new and creative dishes, attentive service and a great price, everyone should find a reason to give it a try.

Mai House's seafood buffet is available Friday and Saturday evenings from 6:00 - 10:00 pm, now through July 29.  

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157 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia St, Vo Thi Sau Ward, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City