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Restaurant Review: Rive Gauche

Vietnamese Cuisine

Growing up in England with two Asian parents, both of whom previously lived in Vietnam, meant inevitably I was to be exposed to the eastern delights of Vietnamese home cooking. The half a year I have spent in Japan has been filled with sushi dates, ramen meet ups and sober soba get-togethers but alas my Pho-dar was acting up and it was time to submerge myself into a bowl of the soupy stuff.

Pho (フォ) is a type of Vietnamese rice noodle served in a clear broth, usually with meats or veggies and topped with coriander, bean sprouts and a good wedge of lemon. It’s a recipe my grandmother passed onto my mother and to all my aunts; it’s a meal that summarises my childhood. So finding the perfect pho would be like visiting home.

Rive Gauche is the southern bank of the river Seine in Paris and also the namesake of a very sophisticated looking Vietnamese restaurant in the basement of a white, stone building. The building itself stands out architecturally in the Yodoyobashi business district. Entering the restaurant felt like being transported into Europe; the winding stone steps lead to a heavy wooden door; behind the door was a very elegant-looking hangout for suave Japanese trendsetters. I figured the name was a reflection of the French-Vietnamese connection but the host simply said “the boss likes France”.

We were seated beside a window with faux vine leaves hanging outside of it; the décor was minimal but chic, vintage posters of French airlines with Vietnamese models decorated the walls. The bar was sat on a slight platform with the handsome, barman peering through hung glasses and liquor bottles. The setting was comfortable with the right amount of space between tables for one not to be tempted to eavesdrop on other diners’ conversations.

I was on a mates’ date and we were not afraid to share so we dismissed the set menu and selected a pick ‘n’ mix off the à la carte. We started with the fresh prawn rolls with plum dipping sauce (バイン・クォン ¥720), a signature Vietnamese dish. The pink prawns wrapped in a mixture of mint leaves, coriander, lettuce and vermicelli were unsurprisingly crisp and fragrant. Getting this simple starter was key to the success of the night, may the night continue.

The modestly named ‘Seafood Salad’ (ゴイ ハーイ サーン ¥1050) came next. A huge China bowl arrived covered with a temporary lid made of deep fried rice paper. Breaking through the rice paper gave the same satisfaction as cracking a crème brûlée. Tossing the salad revealed the contents; squid tentacles, prawns holding onto to their tails and plump round scallops all among lettuce and a zingy, light dressing. This seafood sensation was complimented with the crisp, weightless taste of Vietnamese white wine (¥550 by the glass).

The next addition to the free-for-all was described as Vietnamese okonomiyaki (バイン カオ ¥1260). It looks like a folded omelette without the eggs. The pancake is made up of rice flour, water and coconut milk and the filling was beansprouts, fresh herbs and pork. Accompanied by handy pictured instructions, this was a completely fool-proof dish! It came with a nuoc cham sauce: Vietnam in bottle. It’s fishy, has a slight chili heat, and is a little sweet. There’s no other comparable condiment. Step one was to cut the pancake, step two: wrap in lettuce leaf, step 3: pour nuoc cham all over it, step 4: remember the food you’ve been missing. It’s a great sharing dish; something you can literally get your hands into.

In the true fashion of saving the best ‘til last, we ordered beef pho  (フォボー ¥980) to complete the date. A medium-sized bowl held the contents of my childhood; my heart sank a little as pho is usually served in generous helpings in near-basin sized crockery. But by this point I could realistically only finish half the bowl, a perfect amount. The soup had been made well, the flavours from the hours of simmering stock came through in a meaty liquid form, the newly added chili and lemon spiced up the warm pho. The beef was served rare and rightly so, the thin slices cooked as you bathed each piece. I wasn’t quite hit with nostalgia but the aromas, tastes and textures of all the dishes served impressed this half Vietnamese diner.

Vietnamese food is best served with no frills, it’s simple cooking with no room for pretentious add-ons, saying this, I enjoyed Rive Gauche as a welcoming, sophisticated backdrop for the fresh tastes of south-east Asia that I so dearly missed.

Menu: Japanese

English: Some English speaking waiters

Suitable for vegetarians.

Website: http://r.gnavi.co.jp/kack500/ (Japanese- with some pictures!)

Address: 〒541-0044 大阪府大阪市中央区伏見町3-3-3 芝川ビルB1

3-3-3 Fushimimachi, Chuo-ku, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture 541-0044, Japan

Tel: 050-5798-3457

Opening times:

Lunch 11:30~14:00 ~1000円
Cafe 14:00~17:30 ~1000円
Dinner 17:30~23:00(L.O.22:30) 1000-3000円

Nearest subway: 2 mins walk from Yodoyabashi (Osaka subway line)

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