It’s well documented that the UAE has turned the typical brunch formula on its head – and rather successfully, too. What traditionally began as a lazy weekend mid-morning meal has become, in the Emirates, yet another merry excuse to eat, drink and dance.
From DJs and dancers to costumes and props, brunches – especially the ones held of a Friday afternoon – bring a nightclub vibe into the daylight. Revelry aside, brunches in the UAE are also famous for the sheer variety of dishes they offer. Or, offered, I should say. Restrictions on buffet-style set-ups during the pandemic means several restaurants have replaced their food-laden tables with fixed menus, in a welcome step towards combating food wastage.
The majority of these set menus still reflect the country’s multicultural palate and serve a medley of cuisines over the course of an afternoon. It’s not uncommon, for instance, to have cold cuts, caviar and croquettes to start with, followed by everything from shish taouk and steak to pasta and biryani for mains. Sure, you can seek out a Mexican or Indian food-focused brunch now and again, but, for the most part, brunches in the UAE take their cues from the cavernous “international cuisine” pot.
It’s what makes Blue Jade’s Saigon Social menu refreshingly different. The latest brunch on the block kick-starts at 8pm on a Thursday and serves but a single cuisine. The brainchild of Ha Nam-born chef Ta Van Huong, who has helmed the kitchen since the restaurant’s inception in 2013, the “evening brunch” is a showcase of the most authentic Vietnamese dishes. These are served in a hanging-lantern-peppered ambience that channels Ho Chi Minh City (hence the reference to erstwhile Saigon), complete with conical non la hats for all the guests and a musician playing the handpan drums.
Even as you drink all this in, alongside the traditional egg coffee that pays homage to Vietnamese coffee shop culture, it’s the food that’s the real highlight here. This is a cuisine that’s known for its natural produce, clean flavours and fresh herbs. In his dishes, Huong brings all those traits to the fore, and adds a fine-dining flair.
So, of course, pho, banana blossom salad and veggie-filled rice paper rolls all make the cut. But Vietnam’s national soup is elevated by the addition of a lime chilli glaze, while the rolls are served in two forms: one with shrimp, chicken and noodles, and the other (which I ordered a second portion of) with tender lobster meat, shiitake mushroom, black fungus, onion and a lime fish sauce.
A word of caution here: this is but a three-hour brunch, and there is only so much one person can eat in three hours. So reorder your favourite appetiser – there are six in total – by all means, but do save room for the main event.
This is a mix of meats and veggies, with each dish boasting a medley of well-balanced flavours. The sea bass, for instance, comes with a ginger-lemon sauce and wrapped in a lotus leaf. The grilled chicken is infused with lemongrass and chilli fish sauce, with a side of pickled daikon. The tangy tenderloin (my favourite from the mains) is redolent with the flavours of scallion, sweet basil, ginger, black pepper and soy sauce. The rice comes with pineapple and, for this night at least, I am a convert.
I reiterate, three hours simply isn’t enough time to do all these dishes justice, which is too bad because I would have loved to pace myself before digging into the three desserts (I’m looking at you, banana spring roll and mochi ice cream).
While its dishes may be distinctive, Saigon Social’s prices match those of Dubai’s other high-end brunches, and diners can expect to shell out almost Dh400 a pop for the package, including cocktails. And no, this one’s not on The Entertainer just yet, but it sure is a delicious way to kick-start the weekend.
The Saigon Social brunch launches on Thursday, August 5, from 8pm to 11pm at The Ritz-Carlton, Dubai, The Walk, JBR; it costs Dh249, including soft drinks, and Dh398, including cocktails
This writer was hosted at the invitation of the restaurant