Visit R&J Italian Lounge and Restaurant , named after possibly the most famous love affair in history (Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet) and you might just end up having your very own love affair with fine-dining Italian food.
This is not the kind of fine dining that is stuffy, where you feel a little on edge at the formalities; this is not the kind of fine-dining where the food looks good but it’s a little fiddly and you go home hungry.
This is the kind of fine dining where you are inspired, amazed, enthralled and curious.
This is the kind of fine-dining where your heart is melted by the food and the passion of the chef and his team who are preparing it.
We put ourselves in the hands of Chef Giovanni Parella with his R&J team and prepared to eat vegan Italian delights.
The Vegan Food:
Before we even got started on the food, the theatre began with champagne cocktails made table side, this really set the tone for our meal which was as much about the delivery of the food as it was the taste of the dishes.
“Start your meal off with our famous fresh bread” says the page for R&J on The Reverie website; a statement that really needs rewriting. Something like “try to avoid dying with pleasure as you eat our fresh bread” or “prepare to mourn the loss of our fresh bread once you have eaten it” might be more fitting.
Seriously it’s that good. We eat our bread, an olive oil rich creation that is light and fluffy with an amazing flavour and a slight crisped top, as we simultaneously order more and begin to debate whether this might actually be the best bread we’ve ever eaten.
The first dish arrives, a swirl of vegetables set into a terrine. It’s cold and refreshing and the flavours of the vegetables hold their own, complemented against the crisp toast sat atop the slice of layered roasted vegetables.
The salad that arrives is a veritable rainbow of colours, a dish that showcases the vibrance of eating plant-based food and shows off the high quality of the ingredients. The tomatoes are divine, the finely shaved asparagus oozes freshness, the lightly toasted nuts add texture, aroma and flavour as well as a nutritional balance that we love.
Next, the minestrone soup arrives and Chef Giovanni, who accompanies each course as it’s delivered to our table to tell us about the dish, explains that over 30 vegetables can go into the preparation of a minestrone soup. He humbly offers additional herbs (oregano and fennel) that he collected after finding them growing wild on a recent trip home to Italy and brought back with him. He scatters them into our soup and creates the most beautiful herbal aroma that drifted up towards us on the steam of the broth. Its a wonderful and somehow soothing experience.
This is certainly no ordinary minestrone, with vegetable crisps stacked over perfectly diced vegetables and fresh basil, waiting for the light flavoursome broth to be poured and the dish to be complete.
When the dish is fully assembled the vegetable crisps give a wonderful texture as well as a different flavour to the soup, which we finish and declare love for like it is an old friend that we’ve known for years.
The Romeo and Juliet effect in full swing perhaps?
The recipe for our next dish must surely have called for a hearty dose of ‘theatre’ as our nest of spaghetti was served underneath a glass smoking cloche. Delicious smoked aubergine flavours run through the pasta that is coated in a garlic and olive oil rich tomato sauce; it was simply irresistible.
Our final savoury course is a light risotto with puréed asparagus and the most succulent, sweet asparagus spears laid over the top before crushed nuts and fresh black pepper have been sprinkled on top. Accompanied by baby tomatoes whose sweetness and slight acidity work well with the creaminess of the rice, this dish is like eating a summer’s day.
The finale of our meal is a fruit platter with fresh tropical fruit served on ice with a bubbling ‘dry ice’ pouring over the edges from a small glass set in the centre (more theatrics).
It’s accompanied by fresh pineapple cooked in white fennel by Chef Giovanni at our table as he tells us how his grandmother used to make this for him when he was a child. The story somehow adds to the deliciousness of that pineapple that is already sweet, warm and spiced with fennel flavours.
The Vegan Food Quest Verdict:
Make a reservation at R&J Italian Longe and Restaurant for a fine dining vegan Italian meal where authentic Italian flavours mix with a dash of theatre in a beautifully designed interior to give you one of those ‘nights to remember’ experiences.
We were guests of R&J but please rest assured that their generosity in hosting us didn’t influence our views.
Level B1, The Reverie Saigon.
Dong Khoi St,
Ho Chi Minh City,
Telephone: +84 8 3823 6688
Opening Hours: Dinner 1800-2200