It’s not as easy as you think to define the type of dining experience Xi Xup Noodle & Tapas serves up.
Xi Xup is one of those eateries in Saigon where its name doesn’t give too much of an inkling as to what will turn up on your plate.
Yes, there are noodle and tapas-like selections on both the brunch and dinner menus, but they aren’t the tapas you’ve become accustomed to that are routinely thrust upon you at networking events and gabfests.
No vol-au-vents here!
Take the divine Secret Prawn Lover (VND98,000), for example, an egg served sunny side up on thick crispy prawn toast with Vietnamese rau ram (laksa leaves), a house XO sauce, galangal and toasted sesame seeds with a squeeze of citrusy calamansi.
And the interestingly named Psyduck (VND88,000), an abject winner on the menu, with its duck eggs also done sunny side up with sweet and savoury lap suong (Chinese sausage), crispy potato pieces, avocado and a Sriracha hollandaise bedecked with dancing florally-leafy greens.
I’m big on “destination dishes” at the moment – menu items that you would go out of your way to get your hands on (perhaps even risk death on a motorbike for).
This is one of them.
Both are exemplars of the creative brunch options on offer at Xi Xup that provide an alternative to eggs Benedict and pancake stacks offered elsewhere.
They also take far less commitment to eat your way through than traditional short-term, stodgy hangover relievers like full English breakfasts, in case you were looking for somewhere to momentarily ease the pain brought on by a big night out.
The style of eating at Xi Xup encourages the ordering of dishes as sharing plates so that you can graze away with your companion or friends. You can even do it over free-flow drinks at the weekend if you wish to take advantage of the Weekend Brunch Party menu (VND98,000 per person).
Meanwhile, for dinner, there’s a menu item called Squid & Sausage (VND128,000). It’s a vibrant plate of whole fresh stuffed squid tubes with tiny tentacles, artfully (almost Pro Hart-like) splattered with a creative squid ink and tamarind mayo, then garnished with pieces of sweet sun-dried tomatoes, crunchy garlic chips, laksa leaves and a squirt of calamansi juice.
I’m immediately drawn to just about anything “squiddy” these days. These tender little guys didn’t last long and tempted me to order more.
But there was the Quail (VND118,000) dish to come. It’s a grilled quail dusted with carrot powder (as you do) and five spices served with a sweet corn and miso puree with quail jus.
If we’re talking creativity, this dish is quite like nothing I’ve seen going around Saigon recently.
It’s all at once delicious and photogenic but at the same time bordering on horrific, probably on account of the metal skewers rammed through the little bird from leg to beak, still with feet in-tact as if they are scratching away at thin air.
But so what. It’s a fantastic and, perhaps not surprisingly, tasty dish.
Other dinner menu items include the colourful Rainbow Gyoza (VND128,000), Japanese-style handcrafted dumplings filled with beefy wagyu and funky truffle paste served with a soy and mirin dipping sauce.
There are freshly-shucked oysters (VND288,000 for 12) that taste like the last wave that dumped you head first into the sand, topped with green Sriracha-infused caviar with beetroot and black pepper granita, and a mie goreng (VND168,000) constructed with fresh egg noodles, chicken, beansprouts, kecap (sweet soy sauce), egg and served with the marrow of an insanely large roasted beef bone.
“Wilmaaaaaa!” Get your Flintstones on for that.
While the name Xi Xup Noodle & Tapas alone doesn’t fully explain what diners are in for when they grab a bench here, their Facebook page tagline helps paint a clearer picture.
The young and enthusiastic team in the kitchen indeed serve up fun, creative food with sincerity.
And you can’t expect too much more than that.
The Low Down:
The space is tiny so expect your office gossip to be overheard by everyone
I’m loving the creativity
It won’t break the bank
If you only order one thing, make it the Psyduck
The only real downside is the motorcycle parking, but you can park across the street
Words & Photos by Matthew Cowan. Follow Matt on Instagram at @mattcowansaigon
Xi Xup Noodle & Tapas is on Level 1, 31B Thu Khoa Huan St., District 1, HCMC
For more about Xi Xup Noodle & Tapas and opening times, go to https://www.facebook.com/xixupnoodle.tapas/