Things are not all rosy in Taikoo Li. There are a core of restaurants that produce great food, have great service and seem to have a great business. At the same time, there is a large section of the upper floor where the casualties keep mounting up. Rent is expensive, and if you aren’t that visible, your offerings need to be pretty special. Saigon Mama hopes to liven things up. But will it?
Opened at the end of November 2016, Saigon Mama is the latest tenant that, based on our experience this week, won’t be joining the ranks of the long term prosperous.
First impressions were great, ticking all the initial boxes. Their interior is stylish for a fast-casual restaurant, a bit reminiscent of North Taikoo Li’s Cacha Cacha Thai restaurant (currently still under renovations). Sitting in the restaurant, you’re surrounded by shelves stocked full of hot sauce, cans of condensed milk, and other Vietnamese products. It’s stylish and the giant logo streaked with bright blue and red neon wins Saigon Mama some major cool points.
Their menu looks equally smart. It is straight-forward with a half-page photo dedicated to each of their menu items. It’s easy to understand and the photos are so enticing, we were tempted to try and order one of everything.
Saigon Mama Exterior on the 3rd Floor of Taikoo Li Sanlitun
Saigon Mama’s Entrance
Ordering Counter for a Fast Casual Feel
Stylish Interior Design with Giant Neon Street-Food Style Logo
A menu full of Vietnamese classics, the food is decent with some hits and misses. I wouldn’t call this authentic by any means, but we’re also strapped for Southeast Asian dining choices.
Their signature Saigon Mama Egg Rolls were so spot-on, we ordered a second round because one just wasn’t enough. The Boh Ko beef brisket stew was excellent. Really tender and the gravy was thick and unctuous. Hands down, some of the best in town and a great winter-warming dish. And yes, we also ordered another round of this dish and swapped out the garlic bread for rice noodles (which we agreed beat out the garlic bread).
On the other hand, the fish cakes were flat (in both shape and taste) and glutinous rice balls were awful. More useful as a weapon than as a food source, these balls were dense and tasteless.
Saigon Mama Egg Rolls (RMB 45)
Housemade Cuttlefish Cakes (RMB 45)
Glutinous Rice Cake Savory with Ham (RMB 38 for 2 pcs)
Saigon Mama Chicken Salad (RMB 45)
Bo Kho with Beef Brisket Stew and Garlic Bread (RMB 58)
Honey Glazed Fried Chicken (4/6pc for RMB 45/55)
Bo Kho Round 2 with Beef Brisket Stew and Rice Noodles (RMB 58)
Red Bean Delight with Sticky Rice, Red Bean and Coconut Cream (RMB 38)
Where things really went wrong was with the service. In a relatively empty restaurant at 8:30PM with only a few other tables, it was difficult to get anyone to take an order or supply us with spoons to eat the mostly soup-based menu. At 9:30PM, staff started cleaning the restaurant with the mop bucket out and everything. Needless to say, we were horrified to see one server using the same rag to wipe table tops and table legs and feet. Not kosher.
Furthermore, they rather unceremoniously and unexpectedly asked everyone to leave at 10:30PM, despite the fact that a table next to us was still in the middle of their meal with plenty of food still on their table.
In a new opening, you usually expect the owner or manager to be supervising and cracking the whip for the opening to give a good impression. Here, there seemed to be no such urgency or desire. While some of their dishes were worth coming back for, the last part of our dining experience left us with a sour taste in our mouths.
Unless they make a big effort to turn around the service attitude and hygiene standards, I would be putting money down for this place to close before the end of 2017 based off our visit.
Saigon Mama Contact Details:
- Address: 3rd Floor of Taikoo Li Sanlitun, S6-32, 3F, Taikoo Li South 19 Sanlitun Lu, Chaoyang district
- Chinese Address: 朝阳区三 里屯路19号太古里三层S6－32
- Tel: 01064613261
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Kristen Lum has an accomplished background in PR, communications and events in China. Born and raised in California, Kristen has been based in Beijing since 2006 and is founder of the lifestyle blog called LumDimSum, covering mostly restaurant news and reviews alongside upcoming events around town that relate to Beijing’s muti-faceted, quickly-developing creative industries like art, music, film, health and fitness, fashion, nightlife, charity events, and travel tips.