Set in a French colonial–inspired mansion overlooking the South China Sea, chef Michel Roux’s La Maison 1888 delivers one of Vietnam’s most sought-after dining experiences. Here’s why
By Daniel Ford
It seems perhaps inevitable that a French restaurant in a former French colony would enlist a French chef to create its menu. However, that the restaurant is a hillside mansion with four Bill Bensley–designed dining rooms and the chef, Michel Roux, is among the most renowned living culinary masters, makes the operation far from status quo. Welcome to La Maison 1888 at the InterContinental Danang Sun Peninsula, the resort’s epicurean point of pride since it opened in 2012—and one of Vietnam’s, for that matter—where truffle slices, foie gras, and beef consommé comprise but one option for a start.
Roux had nothing to prove with his haute cuisine here, which enlists the region’s stunning produce—passion fruit, kohlrabi, baby octopus—along with imported Australia meat and French poultry as the recipients of his precise artistry. In the 60-some years of his career, Roux has already proved just about all a chef can hope to: his London restaurant Le Gavroche was the first restaurant outside of France to be awarded a Michelin star; The Waterside Inn on the River Thames is on a 29-year streak of boasting three.
These UK operations keep Roux based in the Western Hemisphere, but every year, he jets to the South China Sea and winds 12 kilometers outside of Danang to the hotel’s seat on the Son Tra Peninsula, overlooking the pristine beaches of Danang Bay. For five weeks, he fine-tunes kitchen operations, and expectedly, the resulting food is exquisite. A starter of poached eggs in puffed pastry with asparagus tips, sauce mousseline, and slices of truffle is perfectly balanced and beautifully textured. Pan-fried lobster medallions with white port sauce and ginger remains an achingly wonderful dish, even after being made the same way for 27 years. Caramelized watermelon accentuates foie gras; pommes paillasson enliven herb-roasted lamb; and to finish, there’s lemon tart with lemon-strawberry sorbet.
Bensley, who loves a good story, imagined a narrative of plantation family’s home life to create the setting—there’s the flower-filled Veranda, the sultry Boudoir de Madame with high-backed chairs upholstered in red velvet —and the effect falls somewhere between ambitious and extravagant. But for the 73-year-old Roux, La Maison is more an exotic exchange program than another reach for critical acclaim; another way to teach his craft and leave his legacy. His Roux Scholarship, which gives young chefs the opportunity to train in the world’s top restaurants, and is what he cites as his greatest accomplishment, not his Michelin stars. And La Maison 1888’s chefs intermittently come to train at his UK restaurants, learning how to prepare the Queen’s favorite raspberry soufflé, to then recreate for diners on the other side of the world.
This article originally appeared in the August/September 2014 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“True Roux”)