Saigon Mama

  • Restaurants
  • Asian
  • Vietnamese
19 Sanlitun Lu
For a city of its size and regional importance, Beijing’s streets should be teeming with the bright, halcyon flavours of Southeast Asia. Yet we are locked in a constant search for good Thai, Vietnamese and Singaporean. A recent arrival from San Francisco via Shanghai, Saigon Mama looks set to fill the void. The Vietnamese fast-casual joint has swooped in with a line-up of greatest hits, hip digs and an everyday price point.

saigon mama 1

From its Taikoo Li South perch, midday sun floods the lofty space populated with well-dressed office types. A retro-style graffiti sign telling us to 'Get your pho on' and references to the street scenes of Saigon set the vibe here. The walls are packed full of Vietnamese foodstuffs: sacks of coffee beans, cans of sweetened condensed milk and bottles of hot sauce paint a picture of the offerings, as wafts of anise and beef stock whet our appetite.

The menu is as polished and well put together as the rest of the place. Stunning matte photography of staple fare tempt ever more cruelly with each page until we cave and order one of each. Service is cheery, attentive and eager to please, guiding us through the finer points of the menu as if in an attempt to curb our zeal. We compromise and settle for only half the menu as the Vietnamese-style coffee arrives.

saigon mama coffee

The starters are served just in time to save us from over-caffeinating. The portions are generous and despite the lightness of nearly all the dishes, the ingredients have a way of filling you up quick. The fried egg rolls arrive first and vanish with a flourish of sweetened chilli and fish sauce; the crisp rice wrapping adding a pleasing crunch to juicy minced pork, savoury mushrooms and tender veggies. Fried cuttlefish cakes are a more mild choice, with the spongy interior offering not much by way of seafood flavour but a pleasing chomp nonetheless, and any vessel for the house-made hoisin and chilli sauces is welcomed.

saigon mama 2

The bo kho beef brisket stew with garlic bread is a return to form. Thick, luscious chunks of slow-cooked brisket arrive in a deeply rich broth, perfect for sopping up the crusty bread. The banh mi sports the same bread, a hearty French loaf, but in the sandwich it’s a bit too much chew for the limber fillings – a more airy bread would suit the layers of pork pâté, grilled chicken and thinly sliced pork roll. Nevertheless, the combination of salty meat, crunchy pickled radish, shredded carrot and fragrant coriander satisfies.

The mammoth proportion of the signature pho commands attention. A birdbath-sized cauldron is piled high with slices of beef and whole chunks of ox tail, with meatballs floating between. The mound of bean sprouts, coriander leaves and lime wedges on the side make it hard to know how best to approach it. The broth is surprisingly light on flavour in spite of the impressive amount of protein heaped into the single serving; additional doctoring with chilli sauce is required. The seafood pho benefits from slightly bolder seasoning and ample servings of shrimp, crab meat and cuttlefish bolstered by yet more ham and pork balls and a fried egg. But, despite its modest proportions, it’s the bun bo hue spicy beef noodle soup that steals the day with an enduring flavour and tender beef shank.

saigon mama pho

We wrap up with some glutinous rice balls from the starters that are a wholly unnecessary but very enjoyable sweet finish to a meal dominated by bright flavours and peaky spices. The mung bean filling is both cooling and pleasing. With its grassy finish and herbaceous tones it complements the overall savoury nature of the menu.

As for the iced desserts and saccharine offerings reserved for the back of the menu, we can see the grapefruit shaved ice dessert (38RMB) getting some action during the warmer months. We decline this time, certain we’ll be making many return trips. With Vietnamese staples in fun digs and at a price we love, this is one Mama we are ready to cosy up to.

By Nick Gollner

Venue name: Saigon Mama
Contact:
Opening hours: 10:30am - 9pm daily
English address: S6-32, 3F, Taikoo Li South 19 Sanlitun Lu, Chaoyang district
Chinese address: 朝阳区三 里屯路19号太古里三层S6-32

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