We are currently a small, but committed, group of people who meet on Tuesday evenings to celebrate the wonder that is cheesecake!

If there is one thing that Vietnam does very well it is cheesecake and, with Saigon's ever increasing number of coffee shops, the choice for the cheesecake lover has never been better.

Join us in the mission to find Saigon's finest cheesecake :-)

The comments found upon this blog are opinions only and we urge you to make your own judgement about any cheesecake or establishment featured here.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Superb Sandals

Date: 16/03/10
Venue: Sandals.
Hai Ba Trung. D1

After last week's limited cheesecake supply, CT members were hoping for a more plentiful spread this week and so we eagerly headed to Sandals, sister chain to the Sailing Club in Mui Ne, in search of what we hoped would be a classy cheesecake.

Sandals is located on Hai Ba Trung, close to other fashionable haunts such as Pacharan, The Refinery and the Park Hyatt hotel. Spreading out across 3 floors, incuding a spacious rooftop terrace, the restaurant offers an ambient atmosphere in which to relax with a cocktail or two.  Incidentally, Tuesdays is $2 cocktail night at Sandals, an offer which also extends to some beers and wine- an offer that CT members were quite keen to take advantage of whilst waiting for the cheesecake..

Despite an extensive food menu and some sumptuous sounding desserts, we were disappointed to find that cheesecake was not on the menu, something that came as a surprise as the Sailing Club offer a fantastic cheesecake.  Help soon came in the form of a weekly set menu which offered Blueberry cheesecake, which we were able to select individually.  This satisfied some members of the CT team, although one member was unhappy that there would be no chocolate in the selection this week.

CT would be getting some cheesecake after all but as the Blueberry cheesecake is not part of the standard Sandals dessert menu, it is not guaranteed that it is always available.  At 85,000vnd for a standard wedge of cake, it is one of the most expensive options so far but is it worth it?

Consistency:  a firm and well-formed cheesecake that holds its shape well throughout.  The actual consistency had the team stumped as to how best to describe it, lacking the thick creaminess of some but avoiding the dry sponginess of others - 'neither cheesy nor cakey: in some ways, a perfect balance.  The baked crust on top adds a great homemade touch to the cake.

Base: an adequate layer of biscuit.

Presentation: Simple and elegant.  The cheesecake is a plain New York cheescake topped with a generous layer of blueberry compote, garnished with a solitary strawberry and sprig of fresh mint.

Taste:  The cheesecake itself is very plain without the usual hint of vanilla or lemon but this works well with the sharp tang of the blueberry.  This cake would work with any other fruit topping or a chocolate sauce.

This cheesecake is one that initially seemed plain to tasters but actually improved throughout the tasting, not a crumb was left on any of the plates.  The team did feel that the price of the cake set a higher expectation than was delivered.

Verdict: a very honourable effort from Sandals

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Cafe Evita

Venue: Cafe Evita, Nguyen Van Huong, D2 
Date: 09/13/10

Most expats in Saigon are familiar with late-night-venue Vascos, - located in the Refinery on Hai Ba Trung, many have also eaten in La Camargue, and those who live in An Phu will almost cetainly have lunched at Cafe Evita at some point.  These three establishments, all under the same ownership, are long-time favourites on the Saigon scene - Vasco's pizzas even being voted Saigon's best by AsiaLife magazine.

Monday to Friday; Cafe Evita is frequented daily by teachers at the British International School all seeking refuge from a busy schedule and enjoying lunch from the school-themed sandwich menu (the 'Director' being highly recommended) on the cosy sofas.

However, neither pizza nor sandwiches were at the forefront of CT member's minds as we gathered at Cafe Evita after a long and tiring day at work - we were after a good cheesecake.  The chilled dessert cabinet at the front of the restaurant is laden with creamy cakes and chocolatey mousses by day but, maybe unsurprisingly, looked rather empty by early evening and CT were disappointed to discover that only one solitary slice of cheesecake remained, to be split by 6 tasters.

Consistency: This cake is thick and crumbly with a spongelike texture, particularly on the baked crust.  The cake did not seem to keep well in the cabinet as it was quite dry by the time we tasted it.

Base:  Another sponge base which, like the cake itself had begun to dry out, leaving the cake with no contrast in texture.

Presentation: Plain and simple with a single fresh strawberry to accompany.

Taste:  This cake actually tastes better than it suggests by looking at it.  Not too heavy or sickening, it is a plain New York cheesecake - simple but tasty.  This cake would be best eaten fresh.

Verdict: No crying over this cheesecake (very tenuous link: Don't Cry for me, Argentina = Evita...) but not our best yet.  6/10

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Blind Bakery Testing.

Date: 2/03/10   
Venue:  Regular CT member Mieke's An Phu home.

There are many restaurants in the city in which one can enjoy a fine cheesecake but let's not forget that there are also other options available.  Saigon has more than its fair share of bakeries and patisseries that offer an eclectic range of our favourite dessert and as CT members enjoy a bit of variation every now and then, we decided that this week we would do something a little different.

Meike kindly invited us to her lovely home in order to sample a selection of cheesecakes from 4 well-known bakeries around town:  Voelker (Thao Dien, An Phu), Pat-a-Chou (Thao Dien, An Phu), Schneiders (Pasteur D.1) and Tours Les Jours (Hai Ba Trung D.1).  In order to add a little mystery to our otherwise dull lives, testers did not know which cakes were purchased from which bakery.  The selection of cakes looked very impressive, excitement was in the air and spoons were poised ready for action.  The tension mounted.

The results are hereby listed in order of appreciation.

In fourth place is Korean chain, Tours le Jours:  CT members were disappointed to find two creamy sponge cakes being labelled as Cheesecake by the bakery.  Whilst the cakes were very nice, they did not fulfil the criteria of a Cheesecake (the main issue being that they were not made from cheese...) Needless to say, we ate them anyway but will not be giving them a score.

In third place is German Bakery, Schneiders:
These cakes are very heavily decorated and look exquisite, the thick chocolate fudge swirl is particularly tempting.  However, the hardened edges of the cake put CT testers off and whilst the cake is generally tasty, it is nothing special.. 6/10

Taking Second is French pattisserie, Pat-a-Chou:
This cake has a particularly spongelike consistency, to the extent that CT found it difficult to ascertain whether the cake is actually made of cheese.  The general consensus stated that it did actually classify as cheesecake leaves the cheesecake addict feeling somewhat underwhelmed. 7/10

Storming into first place is French pattisserie, Voelker:
  CT testers agreed that this cake really does have it all.  A thick and creamy consistency with a buttery, flaky pastry base.  The cake is an elegant cylindrical shape - larger than most of this shape - and has sophisticated chocolate and shortcake decorations.  The taste is out of this world!  Voelker's cheesecake is one of the most expensive of Saigon's cheesecakes but you get what you pay for. The only thing that lets this cake down is the thickness of the outer crust which had hardened after a day in the chilled cabinets; maybe fresh this would not be the case. 9.5/10

Verdict:  Voelker is Victorious!
An absolutely AMAZING 9.5/10

Friday, 5 March 2010

French Fancy


Date: 23/02/10
Venue: Givral, Nguyen Hue, D.1

As the majority of CTs tasting sessions of late have taken place in Saigon's more recent coffee shops, we decided that this week we should address the balance and visit a long-standing favourite.

Standing proudly in what is arguably the best possible location in the whole of Saigon, Givral cccupies the corner space on the crossroads of Nguyen Hue and Dong Khoi - where, incredibly, it has been serving fine food and delicacies for over five decades and stands as a testament to Saigon's French Colonial past.  Whilst casually conversing over coffee and cake, diners can enjoy landmark views of the Opera house, the gardens and the Caravelle hotel.  Located conveniently closely to the Rex, Continental and Caravelle hotels, Givral served as a regular meeting place for journalists throughout the war, and still remains a favourite place to catch up on all the latest news today.  Phillip Noyce's 2002 adaptation of Graham Greene novel, 'The Quiet American', even used the restaurant as a location for a scene in the movie.

CT however, was not going to allow the history,or the scenery, to distract us from our important mission - to find Saigon's greatest cheesecake.

Givral offers a wide selection of cakes, tempting customers with a range of 5 or more different cheesecakes.  Somewhat spoilt for choice, CT members eventually settled on a plain New York cheesecake and a chocolate cheesecake.

Consistency:  The Chocolate variety has a firm melt-in-the-mouth texture that avoids being too heavy.  The NY cheesecake is softer and more airy than the chocolate, creating a light and fluffy texture.  The topping could be a little thicker.

Base:  Both cakes have a sponge base, which testers found a little too 'chewy' and felt that it distracts from, rather than compliments, the cheese topping.

Presentation: Both cakes use straightforward and simple chocolate swirl patterns, which in themselves are attractive to the eye but Givral loses marks for the overly flexible plastic spoons given to eat the cakes.

Taste: The chocolate cake offers a pleasant chocolate hit, enough to satisfy most chocoholics and whilst the NY cake has a pleasant vanilla flavouring, neither cake offers that special cheesecake magic that the CT members so ardently seek.

It must be mentioned that, at 28,000vnd a slice, this is the cheapest cheesecake that CT has so far tasted and Givral certainly offers value for your money. 

Verdict:  It may be Saigon's greatest location, but, alas, it's not Saigon's greatest cheesecake.
                                                     Not a bad effort - 7/10

Monday, 22 February 2010

Shopper's Delight - CT goes International!

Venue: Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, Mall of the Emirates, Dubai

As part of the Cheesecake Tuesday Tet Special Event, this taster went international, sampling cheesecake in the hustle and bustle of that shopper's heaven, Mall of the Emirates, Dubai. Spoiled for choice on places to sit, relax and 'sugar up' it was decided to find out if there is consistency across the board and went for the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf's Oreo Cookie Cheesecake. The Leaf enjoyed great success here in Saigon, but would its Arabian counter part be able to match it?

The cheesecake looked the part. A satisfying layer of Oreo biscuit covered it and its base was thick enough to be substantial but not so thick it distracted from the cake itself. The creamy yet firm looking base promised a 'cheesy yet cakey' experience and this taster was keen to get onto the serious business of the taste test itself.

Alas, disappointment. Whilst many a cheesecake fan would be delighted with its creamy texture and subtle flavours, it was just a tad too creamy for this CTers palette. The base and outer provided a satisfying counter point to the cake itself, with the bitterness of the chocolate biscuit complementing the sweetness of the cheesecake. Whilst the taste was divine, the constistency failed to make a hit with me and in rare event led to a portion of the cheesecake being discarded.

Consistency:  Far too creamy to find a fan in this taster but might appeal to those who prefer softer cake.

Base: A pleasing bitter counterpoint to the cake itself. A perfect chocolate hit.

Presentation: As always with the Bean, it was less is more. Presented on a CBTL plate with no adornments, it looked like it meant business.

Taste: A delight. Consistency aside its flavour was subtle and pleasing.

Verdict:  Be seen at the Bean. 7/10

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Tet Temptations

Date: 15/02/10 
Venue: Sailing Club
Tran Phu, Nha Trang

Due to the Tet festivities CT members found themselves disbanded and somewhat international this week.  Members should be updating on cheesecake from around the world shortly but first we'll begin with something closer to home.

Despite spending a week lounging luxuriously on a beach, one member took time out to see if the cheesecake of Nha Trang could live up to Saigon's high standards.  With this in mind there was really only one place to go - The Sailing Club.

As the founding location of the Sailing Club chain, Nha Trang offers everything that the Sailing Club has become renowned for: exquisite dining overlooking pure white shores and sapphire seas - but is the cheesecake up to par?

With only one cheesecake on the menu the decision was taken from my hands - White Chocolate Cheesecake it is.

Consistency:  Thick and smooth, the spoon slid through the cheese like a hot knife through butter.  Absolutely divine.

Base:  A traditional buttery digestive base.

Presentation:  Carefully prepared with an attractive passion fruit sauce and topped with succulent strawberries.

Taste: The Sailing Club has certainly hit the mark with this cake.  Real white Belgian chocolate, and lots of it, is used to ensure that this cake really does taste of white chocolate, leaving the taste of the cheese barely discernible.  The sharp tang of the passion fruit compliments the rich, sweet taste of the chocolate.  All was going well but one slice really is too much, leaving a CT member feeling rather sick for some time afterwards. 

Verdict:  This is definitely one to share!
A sickly sweet 7/10

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

The Hidden Gem.

Date: 09/02/10

Venue: Centro Cafe
           11-13 Lam Son Square, D.1

After last week's Java debacle, it was with some trepidation that CT headed off this week but, nonetheless, head off we did to the lesser known Centro Cafe. 

Nestled in a small courtyard next to Saigon's Caravelle hotel,  this secluded coffee shop is very easily missed - even by the most discerning cheesecake connoisseur as evidenced by the fact that none of the visiting CT testers had previously visited the establishment.

Battling through busy streets all buzzing with throngs of Honda Waves bustling for an early view of the brightly-coloured, illuminated Tet decorations on Nguyen Hue, Le Loi and Dong Khoi provided an extra challenge in the pursuit of cheesecake but finally the CT team all gathered in the tranquil atmosphere that Centro cafe promotes.  The cafe itself was empty, with shop assisants vastly outnumbering customers as is usual in Vietnam; another fact that instilled a niggling sense of foreboding in CT members - after so many recent successes were we about to encounter a devastating loss?

The chilled dessert counter boasted a number of delicious looking delicacies with 3 cheesecakes on the menu, however the depleted numbers of testers (work meetings and family sickness taking precedence over cheesecake for some members this week) means that only one variety of cheesecake was tested, the invitingly named 'Creamy Cookie Cheesecake'.  So how did it fare?

Consistency: Divinely light and creamy with a soft crumbly texture.  This cheesecake truly melts in the mouth. The filling is interspersed with large and crunchy cookie chunks, providing a delightful contrast of textures.

Base: Wow! For once the base is as good as the filling, consisting of a thick chocolate cookie base. This base has retained a fabulous crunchy texture, making a change from the sometimes soggy biscuit layer of other cheesecakes.

Presentation:  This cake has a gorgeous golden brown baked crust on top giving it a homebaked, rather than mass produced look.  Homely and comforting.

Taste: Zesty but not overpowering.  Definitely lives up to the name 'Creamy Cookies' and left all testers wanting more, rather than being too sickly or heavy.  Good work, Centro!

Verdict: Please, Sir, can I have some more?

An unexpected 9/10.