Saigon Alley: A mini Ho Chin Minh City with inspirational Vietnamese delights in Novena Gardens [Food Review]

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Novena has been quite happening lately with stretches of restaurants/cafes/bar within the area. With the undying craze on Uni pasta at Da Luca, Japanese-centric Kyushu Pancake Cafe and recent opening of Hong Kong franchise Small Potatoes Ice Creamery, coupled with existing watering holes at Goldhill Plaza for a night of booze, it is a foodie heaven that sees no limit.

Opened in July 2016, Saigon Alley is a new addition to the neighbourhood, serving up homely Vietnamese dishes inspired by the street food of Ho Chin Minh City. The cosy 40-pax seater restaurant is part of Hidden Door Concepts which has accumulated a list of food, beverage and lifestyle brands under its name. One of which is Nickeldime Drafthouse located next to Saigon Alley, offering beer-centric small plates, pizzas and craft beers of more than 100 labels.

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Entering Saigon Alley instantly transports me to the alleyway of Hanoi where walls are filled with paper cuttings of graffiti-advertorials. I heard that these were painstakingly cut out by their designer to create the overall hipster street feel. That sounds like a lot of work!

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Vietnamese food is one highly sought after cuisine. Think spring rolls, Pho Bo and Banh Mi and that would make anyone drool already.

Here, Saigon Alley stays true to the roots of Vietnamese food with well-looked into fresh and quintessential ingredients such as fish sauce, mint, coriander, herbs and spices for that perfect flavour. The menu is divided into small plates, appetisers to carbs and meat-based dishes, with a valuable lunch set starting from SGD 10 onwards.

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To start, the Northern Vietnamese Beef salad is a palatable appetiser filled with slices of tender ribeye beef. The highlight is in the dressing (a mix of fish sauce, lime juice, brown sugar, chili and garlic) used for the salad that is both tangy and refreshing.

Vietnamese spring rolls are one of my favourites! If you are a seafood lover, go for the Prawn Paper Rolls and/or Crab Spring Rolls. The latter comes in four crispy rolls wrapped around a generous amount of crabmeat, carrots, yam, wood fungus and spring onions all blended together. The exterior was crunchy though it would be better if the interior was juicer.

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Definitely not to be missed is the Lot Leaf Beef Rolls. Commonly known as Betel nut leaves or bing lang ye (槟榔叶 in Chinese),  the minced beef is wrapped inside and pan grilled for 10 minutes. The result is a soft, juicy texture and each roll is packed with tasty beef seasoned in spices.

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The beef rolls are good on their own, even without dipping into the sauce.

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From the Sky, Land and Sea, the Roasted Chicken with Vietnamese Fish Sauce is another must-try. Marinaded overnight followed by a pan roasting, the chicken meat is succulent and moist, accentuated by the sweetness of the sauce as well. Skin to meat ratio is just perfect with the light charred taste of the skin in every bite. Great for sharing!

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Not for the faint-hearted is the Braised Pork Belly with Lemongrass Marinade. The thick slabs of pork belly with melt-in-the-mouth fats is sheer bliss. It is a dish for the heavier palate, and not to mention, the aromas and taste of spices used is stronger as well. I especially love the flavourful broth, a clever concoction of lemongrass, chili padi, coriander leaves, shallots and lime that I wish for some bread to dip into!

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What’s Vietnamese food without the ever popular Saigon Alley Banh Mi. A toasted baguette spread with chicken liver pate, and layered with sliced pork, pork sausage and ham. To roll it off, the sprinkles of pickled carrots, spring onions and chili added that extra crunch and spicy kick.

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Recommended the Chin-Su garlic chili sauce to spice up your Banh Mi!

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Was thinking about Pho Bo when this Spicy Australian Sliced Beef Noodles finally made its appearance to the table. Instead of the usual flat rice noodle, thick springy rice vermicelli is cooked in a savoury broth boiled in beef bones and brisket for 8 hours. A little bit of throat-numbing sensation due to the inclusion of chili, and I did enjoy it with that bit of spice.

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Saigon Alley’s rendition on the Fried Banana with Ice Cream lives up to expectation. Resembling a goreng pisang, It is applaudable that the spring roll skin still remains crisp throughout while enveloping fruits of banana and jackfruit. It is a mixture of sweet and savoury, a nice way to end off the meal.

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Don’t leave without having a taste of the Vietnamese Coffee with your choice of black or white in hot or cold. The experience is elevated with the dripping system, ensuring the finest ‘drop’ of coffee is what you are going to have after all. Not a coffee drinker, but this totally won me over with the smoothness and velvety texture that leaves almost no bitterness on the tongue, unlike many other mainstream coffees out there.

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For tea drinkers, you may opt for the Jasmine Tea with Lime and Honey or Jasmine Lychee Tea that comes in hot or cold version as well. Both have a tinge of sweetness and minty flavours infused.

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Carving for beers? You may order either from the Saigon Alley itself or cross-order from its sister restaurant, Nickeldime Drafthouse.

Saigon Alley is no doubt going to be a strong contender in the vicinity, serving up heartwarming Vietnamese cuisine reminiscence of the actual street foods of Ho Chin Minh City. With great food coming at such pocket-friendly prices, coupled with an intimate interior perfect for a getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city life, this is one great spot for a laid-back, tummy-warming Pho Bo and street bites for all ages alike.

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Saigon Alley

273 Thomson Road, Novena Gardens, Singapore 307644

Tel: 6265 7662

Daily: 12PM-2:30PM, 6PM-11PM

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