But tipsy munchies sessions at 1 a.m. somewhat diminish the Cantonese hotspot’s finer features. At least, if it’s your first time eating there. If you’re in the mood for Cantonese, arrive around lunchtime. The Saigon sun is high and temperatures at their peak. San Fu Lou’s modish, laid-back interior is a welcome contrast to the sweltering heat, especially if you start off with one of their cool, fruit-infused ice teas.
Brainchild of a Vietnamese restaurateur, an established Australian chef and a Singaporean hospitality expert, San Fu Lou noticeably has a more international mindset underneath its traditional skin. For one, the service is prompt, friendly and speedy – one of the best in the city, according to customers. The décor is well suited, customary in its use of red accents and bamboo, but maintaining the sleek style befitting the AB Tower’s progressive design.
It’s an eye-pleasing spot to snug down with some tea and dim sum, especially if you’re an atmosphere junkie.
If you’ve been to Sorae Sushi on the 24th floor of the Tower, San Fu Lou is its Cantonese cousin, less James Bond and more his refined assistant Q.
Whereas Sorae created a hybrid of modern Japanese décor and a unique conceptual vision of its own, San Fu Lou follows its roots deep. Chinese latticework adorns partitions and stair railings, while Chinese birdcages encapsulate the lights above. It’s fitting, to say the least.
The three open kitchens – dim sum, roast and wok – are separated by glass walls that prevent the steam and grease from wafting into the dining area. Watching the chefs at work is like you’ve just flipped to the Chinese food network.
Smokers get their freedom on the second floor, where ventilation systems prevent the cigarette smell from dousing the guests below in smoke.
Waiters fill your glass of water at appropriate intervals, the food is delivered quickly, the staff is helpful and attentive, and everyone seems to be too busy trying to make the experience pleasant for the guests to actually sink into complacency or irreverence. In short, it’s hospitable and proficient.
We know you just want to hear about the food. Yeah, the ambiance is ripe for metaphors, but what about the wontons, the dumplings, the rolls? And, of course, the duck?
No worries. We have a full breakdown of our meal below. Here’s the thing to keep in mind: Cantonese food is different for everybody, so taste is subjective. We tried to step away from any adjectives that may make our breakdown too personal, but keep in mind, if you’re into it, you’ll dig it, and if you’re not, you may not. Each item has its corresponding number on San Fu Lou menu.
5004 – Iced jasmine tea (VND 45,000): A nice touch is that they give you a small spoon to fish out the pieces of peach floating in the glass. The vanilla- and peach-infused tea itself is refreshing and not overly saccharine. There is no artificial aftertaste, thanks to the peach bits contributing some natural sweetness into the jasmine.
1406 – Pork and prawn wontons (VND 85,000): You get seven dumplings with a base of black vinegar sauce and chili oil. According to executive chef Minh, they create all their sauces in-house, making for some tasty, unique dips. The vinegar and chili floating at the bottom is a balanced sort of spicy, but a word of warning: most of the sauces and dishes described here range from mildly to moderately spicy for those who are not regular spicy food eaters.
1515 – SFL signature duck and black truffle dumplings (VND 65,000/3pcs): warm, gooey truffle sauce and small duck pieces fill the inside of these dim sum. These go well with the tabletop sauces. A customer favorite.
1504 – Pork, mushroom, crab and roe dumplings (VND 50,000/3pcs): The prawn dominates each bite, which is meaty and full; the three pieces are surprisingly filling.
1703 – Beancurd skin roll (VND 60,000): The beancurd is not overly fried and has much less oil than we expected. The outer skin is chewy and goes well with the prawn inside, along with any of the tabletop sauces.
1201 – SFL BBQ combination (VND 220,000): Great for two or three people – you get pork, duck and chicken cut in bite-sized pieces. The pork is typical Cantonese and somewhat sweet, making it a great pair with a tangy or spicy sauce. The duck is slightly chewy, but soft and goes down well by itself or with a sauce. The chicken is roasted and pretty standard, although the skin is fatty. If it was a contest, the pig would win by a margin.
2104 – Spicy “Mapo” style minced pork and braised tofu (VND 145,000): The spiciness sneaks up on you, and pairs nicely with the soft tofu and pork bits. If you’re a fan of the style, you’ll enjoy this, otherwise it might be a bit watery for lovers of more solid Cantonese dishes.
2501 – SFL fried rice (VND 145,000): Ours was a bit over-fried, so this was a miss for us.
1603 – Salted egg buns (VND 50,000): Sweet, doughy finisher with a gooey filling. It had us licking fingers and made our bulging stomach bulge just a bit more. A sweet ending.
Unanimously positive reviews of the service staff. People compliment the trendy décor. The food reviews are somewhat mixed, but lean more so towards the food being good to excellent. Overall, San Fu Lou has four out of five TripAdvisor bubbles.