We then tuck into cooked oysters (the fisherman had thrown them on the coals
before we had a chance to stop him). “Not so bad,” Roux says, ruefully. “At
least they still have some flavour.”
A few hours later we are sitting around the slick mirrored bar of Roux’s new
restaurant, La Maison 1888, at the InterContinental Hotel in Danang. We
crack open crabs caught that day at the lagoon – some steamed, some cooked
in a sweet, sticky tamarind sauce – prepared perfectly by Hang, one of
Roux’s favourite Vietnamese cooks. We eat off white china and drink Roux’s
own branded champagne. The scene could not have been more different from our
After his success in London
with Le Gavroche (the first Michelin-starred restaurant in Britain) and in
Bray, Berkshire, with The Waterside Inn (the first restaurant outside France
to hold three stars for a period of 29 years), Roux has for the first time
ventured into Asia with La Maison 1888. He tells me he is relishing the
challenge. “I love this part of the world,” he says. “If I were 40 years
old, I would move here.”
He believes some of his affection for the country is down to the historical
tie between Vietnam
and Roux’s homeland. The country was under French colonial rule for nearly
100 years and there is still a connection and crossover, particularly in the
arena of gastronomy.
I saw street-sellers in Hoi An touting crusty baguette sandwiches made with
pork liver pâté called banh mi, an echo of the French pain de mie. The
baguettes are stouter than the French variety and baked without salt but the
flavour piques with the adding of nuoc mam, a fish sauce used as seasoning
Vietnam is renowned for its street food
The national dish, a noodle soup called pho, is a delicious consommé made with
shallots, sliced meat, rice noodles and handfuls of ripped fragrant herbs.
Some say it may originate from pot au feu, as the final syllable is
pronounced the same way. There is also a dish here resembling beef
bourguignon but cooked in rice wine, rather than red wine.
“The food in Vietnam is superb,” says Roux. “There are so many dishes that
“For example?” I press him.
His eyes twinkle. “The problem is I can’t remember the names of them. I
confess I have made no progress with the language.”
Roux freely admits he is not trying to be a master of Vietnamese cooking. Nor
does he want to bring the two cuisines together in any way. “Fusion is
confusion,” he says. At La Maison 1888, it is his own classic French cuisine
on offer, which he says “is what I do best”.
But he is eager to visit local markets, to learn about Vietnam’s ingredients
and to try the country’s renowned street food. He clearly adores his staff
as he moves around the kitchen. “Without the person who washes up,” he tells
me, “I am nothing.” And I believe him. After a day in his kitchen, I have a
small sense of the teamwork involved to deliver his exceptional food.
Roux visits the InterContinental at Danang four times a year to direct the
kitchen, host dinners and conduct cookery classes, and I spend half a day
with him learning how to rustle up a three-course lunch: salmon in a puff
pastry with beurre blanc à l’Aneth; baby chicken “crapaudine” (spatchcocked
and pressed down, “like a flattened toad”) with pomme pont neuf and devil
sauce, and a tiramisu dessert.
A market in Hoi An
The menu was almost as intimidating as the company. There were three fellow
guests attending Roux’s class. One had excelled on Vietnam’s MasterChef,
another had written a cookery book, and the third, a Singaporean woman, ran
a pop-up restaurant out of her own home and had flown in specially for the
class. All I could offer was that my grandmother was an excellent cook and
there might be something in the genes.
While we set about breaking the bones of a chicken and removing its lungs,
Roux effortlessly demonstrates how to fillet a salmon, make a feather-light
puff pastry and flip a razor-thin herb pancake. His banter is smattered with
humour. “Leave the pancake to rest,” he says. “Everyone needs a rest, even a
When he introduces his friend Giancarlo Perbellini, a chef visiting from
Verona, Roux says: “Ah, Italian food. I think I was born in the wrong
country.” He is also quick with praise for his young team. “Perfect,” he
says to an assistant, and I can only imagine her high.
Meanwhile, I struggle on. At the instruction “add the chicken consommé”, I
stare anxiously at the two pots – one with chicken consommé, and one with
beef – and then copy my neighbour. When it comes to making sponge fingers
for the tiramisu, I splodge the unruly mixture all over the baking tray.
Roux is deliciously patient: “Stop sharply, and then turn,” he says, as I
awkwardly try to manoeuvre the piping bag. “It is never too late to learn,”
he adds encouragingly, and I do not know whether to be relieved or
Michelle meets Michel
But the angst of my cookery class evaporates as I sit down to eat Roux’s own
tasting menu. After watching him and his team at work, I have a new profound
appreciation of each flavour, the poised presentation, every sprinkling, dot
It may seem odd to come all the way to Vietnam to experience French cooking,
no matter how fine. But Roux’s presence here is not so much about him as it
is about his anointing of Vietnam’s cuisine – and that alone should do much
for the country’s deserved status as a gourmet destination.
When to go
The weather is at its best in central Vietnam from March to August (but note
that from June the number of domestic tourists increases).
Vietnam Airlines (020 3263 2062; vietnamairlines.com)
operates direct flights from Gatwick to Hanoi twice weekly, and to Ho Chi
Minh City twice weekly; return economy flights from £497. For several weeks
a year, flights are routed through Frankfurt, increasing total journey time
from 12 to 14 hours.
GMT plus seven hours.
Experience Travel Group (020 7924 7133; experiencetravelgroup.com)
has a seven-night trip to Vietnam from £1,215 per person staying at the
InterContinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort and including flights,
transfers, daily breakfast, a cookery masterclass at La Maison 1888, dinner
at the chef’s private table, and day trips to Hoi An, Hue and Lang Co. Four
times a year, the cookery masterclasses are hosted by Michel Roux.
Where to stay
InterContinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort £££
On a private beach with 197 rooms (one of them pictured below), two pools,
and an indulgent spa with a studio by celebrity podiatrist Bastien Gonzalez.
Doubles from £200. Danang is halfway between the old imperial capital Hue
and the ancient port of Hoi An. Both towns are World Heritage Sites and
known for their excellent cuisine (0084 511 393 8888; danang.intercontinental.com).
Where to eat
Morning Glory Restaurant £
This is Michel Roux’s preferred local choice, less than an hour from the
hotel, owned by chef-entrepreneur Trinh Diem Vy. She also runs cooking
classes at The Market, one of her other restaurants. Starters from about £2,
mains from £5 (106 Nguyen Thai Hoc, Hoi An; 510 224 1555; restaurant-hoian.com).
La Maison 1888 £££
This fine-dining cliffside restaurant at the InterContinental Danang Sun
Peninsula Resort serves Michel Roux’s classic French cuisine. Starters from
£16, mains from £27 per head, six-course tasting menu £75 excluding wine
(511 393 8888; danang.intercontinental.com).
The exchange rate is £1 to 35,428 Vietnamese dong. Cash is available from ATMs
across the country.
British passport holders have two options. They can obtain a visa before
arrival through the Vietnamese embassy in London. Alternatively, and this is
my preference, they can buy online an “approval letter” (from a private
agency such as myvietnamvisa.com,
which offers a very efficient service) that takes two to three days (£12).
You must print out the approval letter, which is required to board the plane
in the UK and also to obtain your visa on arrival (one passport photo is
also required and £27). There are no required vaccinations.
The inside track
Go for street stalls that look popular with locals.
Choose the Hoi An speciality cao lau, Japanese-style noodles with roast pork,
bean sprouts and herbs, accompanied by fresh coconut water.
Tipping is not expected.
Lonely Planet (shop.lonelyplanet.com)
is publishing a new Vietnam guide in July, available as a print guidebook
(£15.99) or an electronic version that works across a number of devices
including Kindles, Androids and iPhones (£11.19). Lonely Planet’s The Food
Book (£14.99) has a chapter on Vietnam’s seductive cuisine.
a trip to Vietnam with Michel Roux
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Vietnam with the chef, Michel Roux, worth £15,000