A profile of the man behind the success of the Mekong Merchant restaurant
By Ann Wheaton in HCMC
Those expatriates who live and eat in District 2 tend to take the Mekong Merchant Restaurant for granted. It is such an institution in the area and we know that we can always make our way there at any time of the day and find a cool, inviting venue serving some of the best food in Saigon. As an appreciative regular myself I decided that I would like to find out a little more about the achievements of this restaurant.
|Scotty (L), executive chef of Mekong Merchant Restaurant in HCMC’s District 2 - Photo: Ann Wheaton|
Scotty, the Executive Chef, is an extremely busy man, who manages The Mekong Merchant and The Deck Restaurant, located on the Saigon River. These restaurants were the creation of an entrepreneurial English/Australian couple who visited Vietnam some twenty years ago and stayed. They found Scotty through family friends in England. He was running a restaurant in a small country house in Nottingham but had previously travelled in Asia. The offer to transfer to Vietnam to work was an extremely attractive and exciting prospect for him.
Scotty arrived in Saigon in 2007 to find that the restaurant he had been employed to run was still in its infant stages. He explained that the first three months were extremely challenging for him, not only in adapting himself to the new climate and culture but assuming the huge responsibilities that were associated with taking the restaurant from the basic café that it was then to the visionary restaurant that the owners required.
There were many practical problems to be overcome. For instance the lack of an electricity generator, which was not a common place accessory a few years ago, however imperative a resource for the wellbeing of a good restaurant. When the frequent electricity breakdowns occurred all the food from the fridges had to be thrown out. Another major task was training and retaining staff and Scotty is proud to report that most of his staff today was working in the restaurant five years ago. A great achievement. The kitchen team are particularly important and two of them are now accomplished chefs working independently of Scotty and taking some responsibility for menus and food preparation.
The Mekong serves food all day. Try their banana pancakes at breakfast. The a la carte lunch menu is supported by ‘specials’ displayed on the blackboard every day. Choices range from innovative salads to pasta, risottos and sandwiches. On the day I visited I had the chicken avocado Caesar salad (VND160,000) and my dining partner had the goat cheese, beetroot, lentil salad with a walnut dressing (VND195,000). Both of which were equally delicious and beautifully presented. On other occasions I have had the Beetroot cheddar risotto (VND150, 000) which is a taste sensation, providing you like beetroot. The dinner menu includes some delightful taste sensations focusing on fish and prawns from that quintessentially delightful fishing area of Phu Quoc. For the carnivores Scotty has included suitable multidimensional and uplifting dishes including lamb chops, a great favorite with the male of the species.
These beautifully prepared dishes give flight to any thought of the searing heat and humidity that we have to face outside. A visitor could be forgiven for sitting back and enjoying the ambience of the stream of multi-national diners that frequent the restaurant throughout the day while working their way slowly through the innovative dishes that the culinary masters have created in the kitchen. There is even a relatively comprehensive wine list (for Vietnam).
Visit the Mekong Merchant Restaurant at 23 Thao Dien, District 2, HCMC, tel : 08 3744 4713.