I’ve known Bobby Chinn since the early noughties, when living in Hanoi, I was irresistibly lured to the capital’s iconic, Restaurant Bobby Chinn (RBC). Already raw star material – as LUXE City Guide Hanoi wrote, “Sexy, saucy, laid-back, funky, smart, casual, fun…….. and that’s just Bobby!” – and acclaimed chef of his eponymous restaurant, this was all before Bobby’s meteoritic rise as award-winning celebrity chef, TV host and author.
Beside dreamy Hoan Kiem Lake, RBC was one of the first restaurants to cook up a gastronomique revolution along Hanoi’s sleepy boulevards, introducing sensational international cuisine to a developing nation. The combo of opulent Middle-eastern flavoured interiors, divine presentation, cutting-edge deliciousness and flamboyant chef-owner holding court was pioneering stuff, described by New York Times as “An anomaly in Hanoi,” and Wall Street Journal, “Unexpectedly in Hanoi, one of Asia’s best Western restaurants.”
Even when RBC was forced by skyrocketing rents to relocate in 2008 to more intimate confines of Bobby’s residence in Hanoi’s West Lake suburb, the buzz lived on, RBC carried on winning the 5-Star Diamond Award from American Academy of Hospitality Sciences and “Wine Spectator Award of Excellence” (for seven consecutive years) – Vietnam’s only restaurant brand to accomplish both these honours.
NO CON-FUSION HERE
Bobby’s culinary flair and indeed himself are hard to pigeon-hole; both complex, multi-cultural melting pots that break the mould. A self-confessed “ethnic mutt,” Bobby is half-Egyptian, half-Chinese, born in New Zealand and a native Californian; equally, his signature cuisine comes labeled, ‘Pan Global’ and ‘Fusion Asian-Californian gourmet,’ blah, blah, blah, but essentially, is an innovative fusion of Asian and Western cuisine, with French technique, complexity of flavours and recipe contempt, while a Vietnamese street-food obsession results in dazzling re-interpretations.
This exotic hybrid bloomed – in all places – Communist Vietnam, which he’s called “home” for years, but it was almost inevitable he’d be propelled into global celebrity chef status – fiendishly handsome, a passionate, edgy and opinionated cook, with razor-sharp perfectionism and comic timing: TV chef host of acclaimed World Café series (Asia, Middle-east and Africa, now on its fifth installment) for Discovery’s TLC channel and leading to “Best Entertainment Presenter”2007 and 2010 at Asian TV Awards. Bobby has rolled-up as guest on numerous TV cooking shows and as author of ‘Wild Wild East,’ masterfully blending Vietnamese recipes with personal anecdotes on Vietnam’s “frontier” days: Anthony Bourdain’s foreword declares, “What Bobby doesn’t know about South-east Asian food isn’t worth knowing.”
THE HO CHI MINH (CITY) TRAIL
With these impressive credentials, Bobby triumphantly returned south late 2011 to where he first cut his culinary teeth over fifteen years ago – Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC). After years of shrewdly holding-out for the right locale, he launched his flagship Restaurant Bobby Chinn Saigon (RBCS) in one of former Saigon’s “gold” downtown business locations. The restaurant’s journey, from blueprints and Feng Shui masters to painful staff training and chaotic opening night was revealed in all its excruciating glory for reality TV again in ‘Restaurant Bobby Chinn’ show which was nominated as ‘Best Reality Show 2012’.
With Chinn’s trademark decadence (table scattered rose petals and hanging silk drapes) and seductively chilled ambiance, RBCS presents a multi-functional dining experience of casual elegance with inner and outer lounge-zones and an “active” bar, magically transforming from high-end intimate dining to live Cuban band nights.
Fans of Bobby’s sublime cuisine won’t be disappointed; again, a modern global menu, with healthy interpretations of eclectic dishes from around the globe, infused with international flavours and techniques, inspired by extensive travels. Signature dishes feature scrumptious Apple Smoked Duck Breast with black sticky rice, baby bok choy and pomegranate duck jus, Seafood Ceviche with a heavenly mangosteen coconut truffle sauce, Sous Vide Smoked Egg with seared mushrooms, truffle oil and polenta and Seared Day Boat Scallops, accentuated with braised edamame and truffle pea jus. My favourite “leftovers” from Hanoi cover Grapes wrapped in goats cheese with pistachio crust (which I’m addicted to) and crispy-skinned, New Zealand salmon drizzled in ginger demi-glaze with wasabi mash potatoes – divine comfort food.
The market-driven menu, reflecting freshest seasonally-available and organic produce (and imported delicacies), is currently undergoing an overhaul, highlighting ‘small plates’ featuring delicious dishes assimilated while filming World Café series, plus prime cut steaks and seafood. It still presents Bobby’s outrageous humour, honed at English boarding school and stand-up comic stints in L.A., with some quips, totally unprintable!
RBCS’s bar, itself a destination venue, is comprehensively stocked with Scottish single malts, world-class wines and signature cocktails yielding distinctly geographical twists – try the Tamarind Margarita or Saigon Breeze (vodka, fresh pineapple, guava, cranberry and lime juices).
Like the food, diners and bar-flies are an eclectic bunch: Saigon ex-pats, local Vietnamese, including musicians, models and artists (part of Bobby’s “inner-circle”), and tourists, reserving tables in the chance of meeting the man himself, in between filming and global gallivanting, letting loose in the kitchens, or hosting near-legendary parties, another “leftover” from those nostalgic Hanoi nights. (www.bobbychin.com)
with a Mangosteen Vinaigrette
– 60g sea bass filet, thinly sliced
– 60g prawns, cut into 2.5cm rounds
– 60g squid, tentacles or body, scored
– 5 king or jumbo scallops, quartered
– 4 tbsp orange juice
– 5 tbsp lemon juice
– 4 tbsp mangosteen puree
– 4 tbsp coconut milk
– 4 tbsp each of chopped red and yellow pepper flesh
– 4 tbsp chopped onion
– Truffle oil, for sprinkling
– 8 sprigs coriander, finely chopped
– 2 tbsp lime juice
– 1 tbsp salt
– 4 lemon grass stalks, pounded
1. In a saucepan, combine the broth ingredients with 500ml water and bring to the boil over a high heat.
2. Working with one variety at a time, blanch the seafood in the broth for 10 seconds, then remove with a slotted spoon or spider and place in a bowl of cold water.
3. In a bowl, combine the orange and lemon juices. Drain the seafood and add to the juices. Leave to marinate in the fridge for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, in another bowl combine the mangosteen, coconut milk, peppers and onion.
4. Drain the seafood and stir it into the mangosteen dressing. Season and sprinkle a little truffle oil on top. Garnish with chopped coriander and serve.