The new menu has been created by Vietnamese born Chef My Van Nguyen of Saigon Cape Town fame. Under his direction Saigon has achieved numerous accolades and was voted South Africa’s best Asian restaurant in 2012.
The talented Vietnamese chef has worked in Asian restaurants around the world. He relocated from Vietnam to Cape Town with his wife, Kim Anh, to open South Africa’s very first Vietnamese restaurant in the late 1990s. Hence, Saigon was born. Two years later he opened a second Saigon in Rivonia, Johannesburg, which also went on to win numerous awards. Saigon Rivonia was sold in 2010.
Nguyen also worked in various restaurants in Vietnam, Singapore, Hong Kong, Germany and New York, where he acquired skills in a wide variety of cuisines and techniques which form the basis of his culinary style today.
“My passion for food stems from my childhood, large family meals and especially from my grandmother’s cooking,” says Nguyen. His family ran a number of restaurants in Cambodia and Saigon in the 60’s and 70’s. “I love exploring age old methods of cooking and then adapting them into inspired modern dishes. Fresh and seasonal ingredients remain key to my food. Cooking has always been a focal point of my life. Most recent inspirations have been drawn from Peruvian and Nikkei cuisines, especially using robata and high temperature flame cooking.”
Patrons can expect many exciting surprises at Orient and not only from the menu. Orient is represented by the powerful O, symbolizing oneness, unity and the eternal circle of life (no endings or beginnings). The décor is based on the four universal elements – earth, fire, water and air – which have been stunningly incorporated into the details of the restaurant interior. ‘Earth’ provides the texture, ‘fire’ provides warmth and a coppery shimmer, ‘water’ is illuminated through a crystal curtain, and ‘air’ is depicted in the lighting, which is dark and atmospheric at ground level while light and whimsical on the second level of the two-storey restaurant. It is all at once grand and impressive yet warm and intimate.
This is precisely what the owner of Orient, Ernst Fischer, was aiming for when he decided to open the multi-dimensional restaurant incorporating a variety of south-east Asian cuisines. He wanted the restaurant to represent the dichotomy of life’s unity and contradictions, and this can be seen in the textures, levels and overall theme.
Ernst first experienced authentic Vietnamese cuisine when he sailed the Camoro Islands in the mid-1980s. He joked that he was going to open the first Vietnamese restaurant in South Africa. In the 90’s, his passion for entertaining and good food saw him open the award-winning Scoozi Restaurant and Wine Bar in the Mother City. He then embarked in a joint venture with a Thai partner in Thai Cuisine, which culminated in six successful Thai restaurants in Cape Town and Johannesburg, namely Wangthai, Chaiyo, Thaifoon and Soi. The Thai Africa Group was born and has gone on to win numerous awards for its various restaurants. Best of all is Ernst’s joke finally became a reality with Saigon and Orient.
Free state-born general manager Gary Beardsley Nel has been working in the restaurant business since 1993 and has garnered experience in various positions. “Working in challenging situations, in a variety of different restaurants and being passionate about the food industry puts me in a strong position to run Orient Melrose Arch. I look forward to making our diners’ experience a memorable one,” he concludes.