Jun 2008

Warda – Ho Chi Minh City

May 24, 2008
Cuisine: Middle Eastern, Moroccan

71/7 Mac Thi Buoi Street
District 1, Ho Chi Minh City

Phone: 8233822
Website: none

Pita chips, warm flat bread, sesame crackers

Cold Mezza Platter – clockwise from top left – tabouleh, hummus, mutabal (slow roasted baby eggplant with tahini, olive oil and spices), baba ghanouj (110,000 VND)

Lamb and Prunes Tajine – braised marinated lamb cubes with prunes braised in a clay pot and laced with infused chili oil (158,000 VND)

Goose Pastilla – phyllo pastry filled with roast goose, almonds, raisins and oranges (135,000 VND)

Hot Chocolate and Fig Pudding with Cardamom (55,000 VND)

Even though my birthday was months ago, I’m still cashing in on my presents from The Astronomer. Knowing my penchant for good eats, my gift was a series of five fancy dinners. Warda was stop number three on our special dinners tour.

Warda has one of the coolest dining rooms in the city. The walls of the dimly lit space are painted with sweet wide blue stripes. And in true Moroccan fashion, there are tons of pillows for lounging upon while eating or smoking the hookah. There was no hookah for us tonight, but we did indulge in some fine food, including the most amazing chocolate dessert. But before we get to that, let’s start with appetizers.

We shared the cold mezza platter that included a variety of dips and a lovely selection of dipping utensils. The baba ghanouj with mint, caramelized onions and homemade yogurt was our favorite. The smoky flavor of the roasted eggplant was so very delicious that it managed to convert The Astronomer, a known eggplant hater. My favorite dipping device were the thin slices of warm flat bread even though they were kind of flimsy. The portions at Warda are monstrous by Vietnam standards. We could have left completely sated after the first course. I guess we’ll just have to invite some friends to join us next time!

For our mains, we shared the lamb and prunes tajine and the roast goose pastilla. The Astronomer ate the majority of the lamb tajine because I was pretty full and preferred to work on the pastilla with the little space I had left. The tajine, which was served with a side of fluffy couscous, was more The Astronomer’s cup of tea than mine. The overall flavor was decent, but the lack of presentation was a turn-off. A little parsley atop the lamb would have gone a long way.

The pastilla wasn’t doused in as much powdered sugar and cinnamon as we would have liked, but was still quite delicious. The roast goose’s distinctive taste brought us back to Hong Kong, and the almonds and raisins were fabulous touches. The pastilla was served with a fruity sauce (my guess is quince) that tied the nutty, meaty and fruity elements of the dish together.

In my world, there’s always room for dessert. Since The Astronomer was bursting at the seams, I chose the “Hot Chocolate and Fig Pudding.” With a name like that, I wasn’t sure what to expect. What arrived was a molten chocolate cake of sorts. The oozing warm chocolate innards were figged-out to the max. I love figs, and figs with chocolate is even better! This could be Saigon’s best chocolate dessert – full report to come.

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2 thoughts on “Warda – Ho Chi Minh City

  1. As a long time fan of Middle Eastern cooking, I was looking forward to trying Warda, which I had seen listed in the Saigon ex-pat bible, ‘the Word’.

    First impressions were promising – Warda is tucked away at the end of a colonial-era alley off Mac Thi Buoi, and is painted in bold, primary colours, and decked with plants, cushions and colourful fabrics. Unfortunately, the good impressions didn’t last. The warning signs came when I realised that I was the only one eating. The place was full, but the customers were affluent, young Vietnamese people who were only there for the cocktails and the fashionable activity of sucking on a hookah pipe. The service was painfully slow – despite being the sole diner, I sat with a closed menu for ten minutes before anyone asked if I wanted so much as a drink. One waiter’s role seemed to consist only of stoking a small bowl of charcoals with a hairdryer – presumably for keeping the aromatic tobaccos burning.

    The menu looked appealing enough, but my starter of hummus was a mean smear of puréed chickpeas topped with a withered stalk of parsley, and with none of the promised roast garlic, tahini, lemon or olive oil detectable. Oddly, the accompanying pitta bread had an acrid smoked taste, which as well as being unpleasant, completely overwhelmed the already bland hummus.

    Matters took a turn for the worse when a brown sludge purporting to be lentil, carrot and cumin soup arrived, inexplicably in a glass dessert bowl. I could taste the cumin. In fact, that’s all I could taste; a woefully under-seasoned, grainy cumin slop, served with a handful of crackers and a wedge of lemon. These two accoutrements (where was the salt and pepper?) only served to turn the dish into an acidic, under-seasoned, grainy cumin slop.

    I tried my best to enjoy the atmosphere, but after forcing down half of the soup, the pumping soundtrack of Turkish techno music, and the general feeling of dissatisfaction became too much. After what seemed like an eternity of waiting for the bill and then waiting for my change, I left, wishing I’d had a falafel kebab in Pham Ngu Lau for a fifth of the price.

    I won’t be heading back to Warda in a hurry. Maybe I was unlucky in my food choices, but to me Warda is a clear example of style over substance. For a place which pitches itself as a mid-priced, authentic Lebanese restaurant, it needs to get its priorities in order. Does it want to be a trendy hookah and cocktail bar or a quality bistro? If it’s the former, then it seems to be doing quite well. If the latter, they need to turn down the music, learn a little about service, and hire a chef who has at least tasted Middle Eastern cuisine (and not too mention his own dishes). As it stands, there’s more flavour in the hookah smoke than in food, and more attention given to keeping coals hot than to taking care of the customers.

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