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Known for their use of fresh ingredients and lots of herbs, it’s uncommon not to see a fragrant bowl of pho overflowing with all sorts of greens. That’s just one reason why we love all things Vietnamese cuisine. When Joburgers have a hankering for beautiful bánh mì sandwiches, oodles of noodles and rice paper rolls, unfortunately only one place comes to mind and that’s Saigon in Rivonia. I say unfortunately because this is the only Jozi restaurant that proudly calls itself a Vietnamese restaurant – but the only reason is because there’s a Vietnamese flag inside.
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To me personally, the longevity and so-called success of Saigon remains a large question mark. If you’ve ever driven down Rivonia Road in Rivonia, you’ve noticed this restaurant situated on the top floor of Rivonia Junction, with its alluring red and yellow neon signs that read ‘Saigon Vietnamese Restaurant’. It’s been open for many years and I’ve been dragged here a couple times by intrigued out-of-town visitors (much to my dismay), but it will be a long time before I dare visit again.
Firstly, the décor both inside and out is a mixture of kitsch Chinese and Thai décor with a few random decorations here and there. It’s neither Vietnamese nor at all tasteful. Then there’s the food, which is possibly the furthest thing from Vietnamese. More like a pool of anything available in Southeast Asia, it’s all prepared as cheaply as possible and comes swimming in Thai sweet chilli sauce. Yes, we’re talking about the cheap type that you can buy at the Asian supermarket down the road. The best way to describe the food: It looks and tastes like expensive fast food.
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The chicken spring rolls (R51) are served with a very poor sweet chilli sauce, but don’t bother asking for sambal as they’ll give you something that’s not spicy at all but rather has a sweet taste. The steamed fish of the day (R153) has a very obvious taste of not being fresh, and no matter how much ginger, soya and spring onion they drench it in, it’s still tasteless.
If you don’t enjoy your meat well done, don’t order the beef chilli hot plate (R145) – the badly-mannered waiters can’t speak English (or Vietnamese, for that matter), so you won’t be understood if you ask to have it done any other way. Two not-so-bad dishes are the tofu and lemongrass stir-fried vegetables (R68) and tempura vegetables (R68). However, like all the other dishes on the menu, the portions are miniscule and don’t come with rice or noodles – that will cost you an extra R23 to R34.
To add to all this, the ‘traditional’ Vietnamese iced coffee is nothing more than cold coffee with ice cubes and a swirl of condensed milk, and the restaurant is never busy, so there’s no atmosphere at all.
READ MORE ON FOOD AND DRINK HERE.
One positive is the chocolate mousse (R57), which is actually a duo of chocolate and vanilla mousse. It’s smooth, silky and sickeningly sweet (that said in the best way possible), and nothing like I’ve ever tasted before. Still, it’s not enough reason to eat at Saigon. Fortunately, if you live in and around the area, you can order it as an after-dinner treat on Uber Eats (#winning!).
Rivonia Junction, corner of Rivonia Road & Mutual Avenue, Rivonia
011 807 5272
FOOD – 1 star
DRINKS – 2 stars
AMBIENCE – 1 star
SERVICE – 2 stars
Hello Joburg was first published in April 1980 as a monthly restaurant and entertainment magazine. Over the years we have developed a network of patriotic Joburgers that love nothing more than sharing their experiences in this beautiful city!