Having tried Casablanca (Moroccan) Restaurant last week (see review), it was the turn of Bahdja (Algerian) Restaurant this week. Although close to Nguyen Hue and the centre of Saigon, it is on a street that does not see many tourists. The restaurant itself is attached to a modern hotel, and is, in fact, below street level. The signboard was not very easy to see, and the restaurant was empty when we arrived at about 8 p.m., although a few people came in during the course of our meal.
In comparison with Casablanca, the decor is less attractive or distinctive. So in terms of atmosphere, we gave Casablanca 5 stars and Bahdja a generous 3. I am sure that much could be done to make the atmosphere more intimate and genuinely Algerian. Since this is a restaurant that clearly takes its food and service seriously, it's a pity that the decor is not of the same standard and lacks appeal.
The service, however, was excellent. We were looked after by the Russian wife of the Algerian chef (the owners of the restaurant), and very well looked after too. The chef also came to our table towards the end of the evening to ask us whether we were enjoying the meal. Yes, thank you. Although the price of the meal, including two large pots of mint tea and a dessert, came to over 40$ for two, which makes it unaffordable for a lot of people and a very occasional treat for others, the complimentary glass of sparkling white wine and the plentiful home-made bread with spicy harissa and aubergine paste dips were very nice touches.
Since we wanted to make a comparison with Casablanca, we ordered a lamb couscous and a beef tajine. The couscous was good, and the lamb cutlets (served separately) were excellent. The tajine was wholesome, and had the interesting ingredients of apple and prune along with the beef. The portions were plentiful - a make or break issue for me.
We had a plate of Algerian desserts to finish up with, which were delicious. So it was altogether a very pleasant evening with excellent service and good or very good food, only let down a little by the rather uninteresting decor.
It's a class act and is definitely recommended.
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