Now Entering Rive Gauche (Photo: Cherie Pham)

Rive Gauche: Vietnamese Restaurant

Japan tackles Vietnamese cuisine in Osaka.

Now Entering Rive Gauche (Photo: Cherie Pham)
Cherie Pham   - 3 min read

Growing up in England with Vietnamese parents meant, inevitably, I’d be exposed to a plethora of culinary eastern delights. Here in Japan, my time has been filled with sushi dates, ramen meet ups and sober soba get-togethers but on occasion my pho*-dar sends strong signals to my stomach telling me that it’s time to submerge myself in a bowl of the soupy stuff.

Rive Gauche is the southern bank of the river Seine in Paris and also the namesake of a very sophisticated Vietnamese restaurant. The white stone building that houses the pho stands out architecturally in the Yodoyabashi business district of Osaka. Entering the restaurant felt like being transported into Europe; the winding stone steps lead to a heavy wooden door; behind the door was a very elegant-looking hangout for suave Japanese trendsetters. I figured the name was a reflection of the French-Vietnamese connection but the host simply said “the boss likes France”.

The décor was minimal but chic, vintage posters of French airlines with Vietnamese models decorated the walls. The setting was comfortable with the right amount of space between tables (for one not to be tempted to eavesdrop on other diners’ conversations).

Family style is the only way in Vietnam so we selected a pick ‘n’ mix off the à la carte. We started with the fresh prawn rolls with plum dipping sauce (バイン・クォン), a signature Vietnamese dish. The pink prawn wrapped mixture was unsurprisingly crisp and fragrant.

The modestly named ‘Seafood Salad’ (ゴイ ハーイ サーン) came next. Breaking through the rice paper lid of the salad gave the same satisfaction as cracking a crème brûlée. Tossing the contents revealed squid tentacles, prawns and plump round scallops all among lettuce and a zingy, light dressing, further complimented with the crisp, weightless taste of Vietnamese white wine.

The next addition to the free-for-all was described as Vietnamese okonomiyaki (バイン カオ). It looked like a folded omelette without the eggs. Accompanied by handy pictured instructions, this was a completely fool-proof dish! It came with a nuoc cham sauce: Vietnam in a bottle. It’s fishy, has a slight chili heat, and is a little sweet. There’s no other comparable condiment.

In the true fashion of saving the best ‘til last, we ordered beef pho (フォボー). A medium-sized bowl held the contents of my childhood; my heart sank a little as pho is usually served in generous helpings in near-basin sized crockery. The flavors from the hours of simmering stock came through in a meaty liquid form, the newly added chili and lemon spiced up the warm pho. The beef was served rare and rightly so, the thin slices cooked as you bathed each piece. I wasn’t quite hit with nostalgia but the aromas, tastes and textures of all the dishes served impressed this half-Vietnamese diner.

Vietnamese food is best served with no frills, it’s simple cooking with no room for pretentious add-ons, saying this, I enjoyed Rive Gauche as a welcoming, sophisticated backdrop for the fresh tastes of south-east Asia that I so dearly miss.

*Pho: Vietnamese rice noodle soup

Cherie Pham

Cherie Pham @cherie.pham

I came from England to Japan to indulge myself in all things Nippon. Living here has further fed my addiction to travel and food (luckily funded by English teaching). Through my continuous quest to unveil Japan's best-kept secrets, I've undoubtedly fallen head over heels for this beautiful, treas...