Walking into the alley underneath the crumbling apartment block at 14 Tôn Thất Đạm, visitors may vaguely remember stumbling past on a night out whilst searching for Snuffbox speakeasy bar upstairs. While the bar is ostentatious and expensive (by vietnamese standards of course), the calming and virtuous Mãn Tự Vegan restaurant could not be more different.
A haven of tranquility to break up the busy work day, it is impossible to leave this place feeling stressed about your motorbike breaking down, your school kids misbehaving, your favourite Banh Mì stall disappearing, or any other saigon-specific micro-annoyance.
Customers are welcomed into the small restaurant as if it’s someone’s living room, save for the fresh vegetables dotted across the shelves and a few health food products on sale here and there. But don’t be fooled by the unassuming decor. The food is anything but.
At the lunch buffet, the restaurant serves an impressive array of vietnamese vegan cookery. From noodle soup, eggplant curry, mushrooms stir fried with lemon grass, tofu in many guises, and fresh spring rolls, to the awesome red rice with mixed vegetables and banana blossom salad, everything is impeccably fresh. The beaming lady there assures my friend that all the vegetables are straight from Da Lat and cooked using only sunflower oil. You serve yourself, as much as you want. Drinks of water or tea, and dessert of Vietnamese chè and fresh fruit, are all included.
I’ve grown to accept being stared at quizzically when I accompany my vietnamese friends to local places, but every time I’ve been here I’ve been asked in broken english: “You can eat it?” As if. My empty plates and return trips to the buffet to sample what I missed on the last round are pretty damning evidence…
Lunch Buffet: “Honesty Buffet” (Pay what you like). Open in the evenings too with a normal menu.