This new casual Vietnamese establishment in Novena Gardens along Thomson Road aims to sate your cravings for bánh mì, pho, and spring rolls with its street food-inspired menu
From the spices to the streets, there are numerous unforgettable things we soak up whenever we make a visit to Vietnam. And while Ho Chi Minh isn’t exactly a long flight away, we’re always looking for authentic joints that evoke the grittiness of its alleys and the freshness of its food culture in our own backyard. So when we heard that Hidden Door Concepts – the folks behind Angie’s Oyster Bar and Spathe Public House – had just opened a new restaurant that hopes to recreate and refresh the concept of Vietnamese street food, we jumped at the opportunity to give it a visit.
Saigon Alley’s interior is an intriguing one. Exuding an industrial, grunge-y vibe, this dining dig mashes rebellious American street art with softer, traditional Vietnamese elements. Silk lanterns hang above the counter as a large neon-lit star reminiscent of Vietnam’s flag glow with a garish splash of blue and magenta. A graffiti mural of a sloshed octopus stares out lazily from the back of the shop.
Stomachs growled in anticipation, as the kitchen promptly served up a plate of crab spring rolls for starters. Wrapped in crispy spring roll skin, this crunchy exterior crackled easily to reveal savoury fillings of crab meat and fungus. The Lot leaf beef roll was no slouch either, with its mildly salty fillings of minced beef wrapped in wild betel leaves, as was the North Vietnamese beef salad that followed – prepared with laksa leaves, coriander, and sliced chilli, the piquant ingredients paired well with the juicy, smoked beef in the dish.
Otherwise, help yourself to a plate of fried silken tofu which is topped with a colourful garnish of basil, garlic, and peanuts; or a basket of deep fried corn cake fritters which comes with a sweet, spicy dip of plum sauce, chilli, and lime. These appetisers weren’t overly filling, and, like any decent starter, made us hungrier for what was next.
No Vietnamese meal is truly complete without fish sauce, and we weren’t disappointed when the chef brought out a plate of roasted chicken drizzled with the salty, tart condiment. Left overnight to marinate in a mixture of fish sauce, onion, chilli, and coriander, the chicken is pan-roasted for 30 minutes once the order is placed to maintain its succulent juiciness when served. A long wait for a dish, but one that is totally worth it.
But as delish as the roasted chicken was, it can’t beat the braised pork belly with lemongrass marinade that came next! Garnished with sliced lemongrass and chilli. and served with jasmine rice, the pork belly here is melt-in-your-mouth fatty (this writer couldn’t stop giggling in glee after just one mouthful).
And what’s Vietnamese cuisine without bánh mì and pho? The resto’s signature Saigon Alley bánh mì distinguishes itself with crispy handmade bread, generously filled with chicken liver pate, sliced pork, ham, coriander, spring onion, and chilli. And aside from the standard pho bò, the restaurant also offers a spicier Australian sliced beef noodles. Tuck into this huế-styled noodle dish, and you’ll be surprised to find the standard flat noodles replaced with a rounder variety; yet, it’s still delightfully springy, and absorbs all that tingy spiciness of the hearty beef broth.
Even ’til the very end of the meal, Saigon Alley’s creative spins don’t fall short. Dessert was fried bananas with a scoop of ice cream; but instead of frying it a la goreng pisang, the banana was wrapped in a spring roll skin and fried ’til crispy, allowing for a crisp texture while preserving the moist fruit within. The blend of ice cream, banana, and a tinge of jackfruit brought the meal to a tasty conclusion.
Whether you are stopping by for your morning coffee, finding a new lunch spot to visit, or a place to chill after work, we believe this laid-back Vietnamese resto has what you need. With unpretentious food with enthralling tastes, and prices that are easy on the wallet, Saigon Alley may just be the next gourmet hotspot in Novena.
Saigon Alley, 273 Thomson Road, Novena Gardens, Singapore 307644, p. 6256 0261. Opening Hours: Mon-Sat, 12pm-11pm.