Gastronomique Codes of Love at La Villa French Restaurant
The food and beverage scene in Ho Chi Minh City is booming. But with so many ‘fine dining’ options offering deconstructed reimaginings of classic dishes, and the latest efforts to fuse various cuisines, how does La Villa French Restaurant differentiate itself from the culinary pack? What do they have to offer that cannot be found elsewhere within the ever growing foodie scene of Ho Chi Minh City?
Upon arriving to La Villa, located on a charming, quiet, and breezy street at the centre of District 2’s Thao Dien, I am greeted at the entrance by the gentle smile of the maître d' who gracefully guides me past towering cast iron gates. The restaurant is set within a gorgeous white villa. As I step onto the grounds and into La Villa’s expansive outdoor seating area, with its lush array of green plants and enormous outdoor pool, the first word that comes to mind is… oasis.
Gorgeous outdoor dining at La Villa French Restaurant
Renowned Chef and owner of La Villa, Thierry Mounon, helps me to understand the concept of fine dining as…
“... providing an EXTRAORDINARY experience. A standout journey from start to finish.”
As the maître d' pushes open the double french doors that lead to the main dining room, the sound of soothing jazz and piano keys falls upon my ears. Double layers of crisp white linens drape over large round tables, and crystal clear wine glasses of the highest quality have been precisely placed in mirrored unison. As I sit back into my heavy, leather cushioned chair I feel immediately at ease from the calm ambience and pristine surroundings that the restaurant offers. La Villa is a welcome escape from the turbulent energy of Ho Chi Minh City.
When dining out at any restaurant the food and drinks served really only makes up 50 percent of your overall experience. It takes a team of well trained, personable, and talented Front-of-house staff to really drive home that “EXTRAORDINARY experience” and turn you into a loyal return customer.
La Villa likes to regard itself as a complete hospitality school. They are passionate about training juniors within the field to bring them to the expert level of knowledge and skill that is required of them. Thierry is dedicated to supporting young and promising talents, giving them the opportunity to grow and prosper within the F&B and hospitality industries. And he takes their training very seriously. The level of training, service and background knowledge that needs to be showcased by each employee is paramount.
“Quite often we have staff with experience from 5-star hotels come to La Villa to complete their internships and they comment that the standards, pressure, and attention to detail are much higher at La Villa.”
The biggest challenge in training new staff is helping them understand, appreciate, and respect the codes of fine dining and the importance of fine dining service. Thierry explains, “There is no real reference for classic fine dining in Vietnam. We are more used to local street food than fine dining, so it’s true that it’s hard to make trainees understand why we have clients that are willing to come in and pay such a high price.”
Chef Thierry Mounon training his Back-of-house staff
But at the end of the day, the most important thing for Thierry in screening talent is their attitude to work...
“You need to be dedicated to this job, because it is a work of patience and love,'' says Thierry.
In order to ensure that diners have a spectacular time at any restaurant, the server must inherently love their work and display this through their service. “It is a tough industry and only passion and love will pull you through.”
The passion and expertise at La Villa is evident, and the dedication to the industry that the staff at La Villa have chosen to be a part of runs deep. Restaurant Manager Phuc and some of Thierry’s skillful Back-of-house staff have been faithful to the La Villa family for over 11 years.
Throughout my dining experience at La Villa, the team of servers are consistently calm and collected with each dish perfectly orchestrated to land before each guest in synchronised harmony. Phuc is well informed on every ingredient and every cooking technique that is lovingly put into each dish, and speaks of them with an excitement and passion that is infectious and leaves me eager to dig into each course.
The codes of fine dining at La Villa are deep rooted in French culture…
“We don’t really use the term ‘fine dining’ in France. In French we have the term ‘restaurant gastronomique’. These are establishments that provide a complete gastronomic experience that stands worlds apart from the usual comfort food of your local bistro or brasserie. Quality is at the centre of everything!”
Some of the codes of a ‘restaurant gastronomique’ include surprise canapés and amuse bouche that are off-menu, a well curated environment and sequence of service that will ensure guests are comfortable enough to spend 2-3 hours at the dinner table, and a renowned chef at the helm with the talent and ability to source the best seasonal produce and create something that is always outstanding and delectable.
Amuse bouche of Gazpacho & Tarama / Leroy Nguyen
For our amuse bouche, I am surprised to be served Gazpacho - a classic Spanish cold soup made of raw blended vegetables, and Tarama - a classic Greek meze made from salted and cured fish roe blended with olive oil, lemon juice, and bread. Both are absolutely divine, but for a restaurant that dedicates itself to celebrating everything French, and who prides itself on adhering to the codes of classic French fine dining, what are these two tasty morsels doing on my table?
One may be inclined to think that French fine dining involves strict traditions and sets of rules, but it is here, at the very start of my meal, in which I delightfully discover that…
“French cuisine is actually quite open. There are a lot of rules, but at the same time creativity is allowed and expected… Fine dining is all about identity and most of the time the Chef’s identity must be inherent in each of his or her dishes. You should be able to see an identity within every aspect of your journey and experience.”
Thierry hails from the south of France, and within the communities that reside in Thierry’s hometown Gazpacho and Tarama have in fact been eaten for hundreds of years. Commonly known as a region largely comprised of immigrants Thierry grew up surrounded by many cultures and a truly unique form of French cuisine that celebrates everything in this world that is good.
“I remember the neighbours of my grandmother were Italian. Every two weeks we would go and eat pasta at their place.”
Foie Gras Raviole Bon-bon / Leroy Nguyen
And it is the pasta course that hands down has me swooning. The Foie Gras Raviole Bon-bon with foie gras sauce and duck jus is culinary alchemy at its very finest. A single, plump dumpling sits at the centre of a generous pool of luscious, velvety foie gras sauce. Drizzles of deep brown duck jus are laced throughout. A solid slice of foie gras is hidden within the delicate handmade pasta and upon my first mouthful I am rendered speechless.
The inherent taste of foie gras melts upon my tongue, fills my mouth, and lingers ever so smoothly on my palate. It is all at once rich and buttery, but delicate. The experience of savouring this delicacy, imported directly from France, can be described as soft, but bold and full flavoured. The dish is most definitely luxurious, but never overbearing. Upon wiping my plate clean I am grateful for the Italian neighbours of Thierry’s childhood, and I can only think of three words…
I want more.
Another ‘restaurant gastronomique’ code which Thierry strictly abides by when creating his menu at La Villa is the non-negotiable necessity to cook everything from scratch. Unfortunately in this modern industrial age, Thierry is witness to an increasing number of establishments, both in France and Vietnam, who cut corners and source pre-cooked product that is mass produced and sent out to restaurants looking to save on time and labour costs.
Over recent years, Thierry has seen a trend in modern kitchens where no cooking is actually involved. Younger generations are not willing to spend twelve plus hours tending to a pot over a stove. They have no notion of holding pride or value in what they create and serve to guests.
Fresh juices pressed daily at La Villa
In an age where many restaurants are essentially moving towards serving minute meals that are not so much unlike your frozen dinners from the freezer section, La Villa stays true to their identity. They stay true to dedicating unwavering patience and love in all that they source and produce. They stay true to providing an EXTRAORDINARY experience to all of their guests. And they stay true to Thierry’s ultimate code of quality being at the centre of EVERYTHING at La Villa.
La Villa’s Pâté en Croûte / Leroy Nguyen
A perfect example of La Villa’s stance on patience, love, and quality is the Pâté en Croûte which takes Thierry and his expert kitchen team two entire days to create. Layers of pidgeon, duck, veal sweetbreads, guinea fowl, and pork are painstakingly layered, encased, and cooked within an evenly browned handmade pastry crust. A thick slice of the Pâté en Croûte reveals a beautifully marbled cross section. The rich and gamey pastry is perfectly balanced, served alongside petit cornichons and generous quenelles of homemade fig jam and seeded French mustard. Delicate micro herbs and edible flowers are elegantly placed to complete Thierry’s masterpiece.
La Villa Never Disappoints
It is this extreme attention to detail and unwavering effort to fulfill each and every step to a tee that continues to raise La Villa leagues above the rest. No where else in Ho Chi Minh City are you able to find the same quality of French cuisine or the same standard of service that keeps adoring fans return time and time again.
From left to right: Pastry Chef Truong Hoang Huy; Sommelier Phan Tai Ton; Junior Sous Chef Tran Minh Duc; Restaurant Manager Nguyen Thi Phuc; Sous Chef Tran Ngoc Thuan; Co-founder & Customer Relations Tina Pham; Chef Thierry Mounon
Despite all the complexities, the layers of flavours and textures that each of Thierry’s show stopping creations hold, and despite the endless hours, days, and nights behind each perfect lunch and dinner service, the overall philosophy that drives Thierry and his work at La Villa is quite simple. He explains in a touching memory from his childhood…
“You know I have no rules. Growing up, my mother always said to me, when you want to buy a gift, you should buy something that you would like to have yourself. And I behave the same way for my food, my menu, and my guests... Something I am craving for, that I cannot find in another restaurant, something that I love… I put it on the menu and I gift it to the customer.”
La Villa French Restaurant
Image source: La Villa French Restaurant - by Mervin Lee