It all began in 2010. A young couple – Tina, Vietnamese, 22 years old, had started her career in hospitality four years ago while Thierry, French, 32 years old, was already an experienced Michelin-standard chef – moved into a 15-year-old villa in Ho Chi Minh City’s not-yet-trendy Thao Dien Ward in District 2. What were they up to? To open what some now call the best fine-dining restaurant in Saigon: La Villa French Restaurant.
Every night, people ask us how La Villa came to be what it is so we reckoned we should tell the story here once and for all. Spotlight on for the noble tale of La Villa… and some other interesting facts you might want to know.
A Staggering Growth Rate
Did we say it all began in 2010? It did, but La Villa French Restaurant chose a very special date the following year to actually open its doors: 14 February 2011 – Valentine’s Day! And from the beginning, La Villa was all about fine dining: pay more to get more.
However, it was a modest start. As upscale as the restaurant was, Tina and Thierry did not have the money for daring investments.The team was made up of only 10 people, six of them sweating in the kitchen to serve all the traditional French goodness in the best possible quality, 100 percent home-made, from broth to bread.
Just to give you the full picture: while the guest capacity has only slightly risen since 2011, La Villa employs 50 staff today. Don’t bother, we’ll do the math: that’s a five-fold leap!
What is that good for? If you’ve ever eaten at our restaurant, you’ll know: quality service is all about the details. Your personal dining experience at La Villa is actually individually managed from soup to nuts.
We Fall to Rise
But let’s go back to 2011. La Villa opened at a time when gastronomy in the truest sense of the word was limited to two or three venues in Ho Chi Minh City. Fine dining in Vietnam was in its infancy. So La Villa tried something radically new: a fine-dining set lunch.
One would expect people to be beating down the doors once they’ve heard about this offer. However, let’s not forget where the venue was located. District 2 was just starting to become the hip place to be and La Villa was not yet a constant top-10 restaurant on TripAdvisor. There was little hope to get walk-in customers.
So Tina and Thierry had to face a sad truth: all beginnings are difficult. Imagine a spruced up high-end venue, a beautiful villa with a blooming garden and home-made, Michelin-standard French food delights all ready at a bargain price – and not a single guest at lunchtime.
But dry your tears. Everything was going to be alright.
The guests came, eventually, and they liked what they got. From then on, La Villa relied on word-of-mouth and became a veritable brand. At last, even the Vietnamese came. Like it or not: reputation is everything in good old Vietnam.
Sometimes people ask about the pink in the logo that stands out among the omnipresent black, brown and grey colour codes in high-end gastronomy. Well, it’s like in fashion: you just have to know how to wear things. And if already you’re situated outside of the city centre, you’d want to outshine the others.
Another way of doing so is through quality. We’ve talked about the service but since our humble beginnings, we don’t stop upgrading our food and venue. Do you like beef? La Villa uses the most choice beef to be had on this planet: Wagyu beef from Japan. Do you enjoy a good lobster? We’re one of the rare restaurants to import the best of their kind.
Co-owner Tina breaks La Villa’s guiding principle of customer service down to a simple formula: “If the guests aren’t happy with something, we explain it to them. If we can’t explain, we change it.”
Speaking of guests – who are they? It’s a 50-50 thing, half tourists, half local residents. While Vietnamese, and not only the wealthier ones, are currently starting to include French cuisine into their eating routine, local expats are easier to win over: they just know a good steak from a bad one. It’s not as simple with Asian tourists, the top market among which being – make an educated guess… – China. And Chinese like their steak cooked all the way through.
Here’s a secret: nothing hurts the hearts of our chefs more than well-doing a steak. Have mercy with them and trust their expertise – red does not mean raw.