The name is, well, catchy. And most of what lands on your plate at Fresh Catch is straight from the sea off Lagi on Vietnam’s south coast, halfway between Vung Tau and Mui Ne, some 150km east of the country’s largest metropolis, Ho Chi Minh City.
If not from Lagi, it’s likely your catch – should you dine here – has been landed somewhere off the popular seaside holiday locales of Nha Trang or Phu Quoc. Both are renown in this part of the world for their seafood.
Indeed, just about everything about Fresh Catch is, dare I say, off-the-hook, from the renovated Modernist villa to its quadrilingual menu (a mix of Spanish, French, English, Vietnamese) that makes even an unappetising sounding bowl of Portuguese stewed clams with pork meat in English, sound super sexy in Spanish (Mexilhao e porco a Aletejana).
Apologies for stealing your tagline Tomatito!
Fresh Catch represents what’s great about living in Ho Chi Minh City these days. Here you have a couple of restaurateurs – one French, one Spanish – who have taken a punt on renovating a villa and turned it into something as Mediterranean as it gets in our swampy, low-lying neck of the woods.
It says a lot about the lengths the two of them will go in order to achieve a goal, in this case, their “Mediterrasian” version of a quan hai san.
I haven’t come here for the Mediterranean, just the taste of it
The villa has come up a treat after some renovations and redecorating. But there’s just one…err…catch, and it’s an unfortunate one. If only the breeze that gently wafts in through the beautiful wooden window shutters of an afternoon were from across the lovely expanses of the Mediterranean’s sultry azure blue waters and not the unsightly urban ones of rusty tin rooftops capping our great city, then this experience would be perfect.
But quite frankly, who cares? I haven’t come here for the Mediterranean, just the taste of it, and Albin and Xavi (both have extensive experience skippering enterprises through the stormy seas of Vietnam’s hospitality industry) and their team have done a brilliant job in hooking me and reeling me in hook, line and sinker.
The variety of ‘fresh catch’ on the menu is surprising. I had come thinking I was going to tuck into a piece of battered fish and chips with a wedge of lemon, then perhaps dip them into a dollop of tartare or aioli. Nope, how foolishly Antipodean I was.
Instead, I’m greeted by a menu featuring tapas and antipasti items like deep-fried whitebait (VND65,000) and calamari (VND95,000), fresh mozzarella, tomato coulis and pan-seared pork belly and prawns (VND180,000), marinated fresh sardines, pan con tomate with arugula salad and parmigiano shavings (VND125,000).
Batten down the hatches ‘me hearties’!
Pretty much everything else on the menu is what can be hoisted onto the decks from the waters of Vietnam’s East Sea – octopus, squid, lobster, crab, and, naturally, fish – but prepared in the traditions of the countries overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, ranging in price from the Catch of the Day a la plancha (VND385,000) to the Catalana of Crustaceans, a gently-steamed seafood mix with vegetables to share among four people for VND1.2 million.
There are also pasta and rice dishes, including paella for a minimum of two people (VND295,000) and one of my all time favourites of Mediterranean cuisine (Filipino readers will love this, too) squid ink done in a risotto with marinated baby calamari and fresh burrata. Aye aye Captain!
As you’ve probably noticed, Fresh Catch’s menu is as entertaining to read as it tastes. Spend enough time poring over the menu surrounded by the light and airy nautical ‘feels’ nursing a glass or two of a pinot gris, and you can bet you’ll be ordering in pirate speak, or at least a fun hybrid lingo of Spanish and French with a lick of Vietnamese.
But above all else, this is seriously excellent food and an experience to remember, and you can be sure that the skipper of this ship has already charted a return course to this popular port of call, with plans to drop anchor indefinitely to explore more of Fresh Catch’s tasty bounties.
Fresh Catch is at 4B Phan Ke Binh, District 1, HCMC. For more information, click HERE
Words by Matthew Cowan
Featured photo supplied by Fresh Catch