What fascinates me about Mr. S’s cigarette is that it’s never less than ¾Ã¢â‚¬Â in length. Is it a real cigarette? Does he smoke ¼ of an inch then light a new one? It’s a mystery that presents itself on each of my three visits to Le Bol de Saigon, where Mr. S takes our order on the tiny roadside terrace before retiring inside with his cigarette and large glass of red wine.
His small, portly dog waddles out onto the terrace and barks at the traffic, his cat archly regards customers between snoozes. It’s another toasty afternoon in Marrakech’s Gueliz district and fans blow tepid air over the diners at this roadside Vietnamese. A straw roof keeps the glare off and roll down plastic sides shield us from the little dust storms that can whip up out of nowhere.
Le Bol de Saigon is small, so small that the cat has to be booted of his snoozing chair with regularity, but it’s never too full or too empty. It’s a family venture, and downstairs the Saigon women prepare your order. Periodically, Mr. S’s son pulls up on his silver moped to oversee the proceedings. At over 6ft he dwarfs the diminutive Mr. S and flips his long shiny black hair over one shoulder.
The food, when it comes, is amazing; at least it tastes amazing to two people fed solidly for two weeks on tagine and kebab. I’m so tagined out I almost weep with gratitude over the crunchy egg rolls. In fairness the food at Le Saigon is brilliant, and these are delectable rolls – you see regulars coming from all over Marrakech just to order a plateful. Juicy with oil, and with a filling of shrimp, chicken, fried egg and julienned vegetables, they’re rich but delicate, a tender roll up unlike the chewy cylinders I’m used to. These are gourmet rolls.
Dumplings are also none-standard, and Mr. S has managed to get hold of minced pork, although it’s tactfully not mentioned on the menu. This comes as a crumbly, spiced filling for the dumplings that are more flattened ravioli that the fat half-moons I’m used to, but none the less tasty with their fried onion garnish and delicate rice pastry wrapping.
On each plate there seems to be the perfect balance of flavors: sweet, savory, sour and salty, and this is best epitomized by the Bo Bun, a star dish that uses tender strips of beef pounded and tenderized with lemongrass, then sautÃƒÂ©ed and served on top of a mint-rich salad, vermicelli noodles and some toasted peanuts for richness and crunch. A dainty cup of light dressing unifies the dish, and what’s essentially a beef salad becomes sublime. So moreish and satisfying is the Bo Bun that we can’t bring ourselves not to order it on each visit, and it’s the dish I’m now recreating at home as an everyday staple.
Chicken curry is so-so, don’t expect anything wildly authentic here, but it’s a sweetish, perfectly acceptable representation of the dish, charmingly served as a dainty casserole. Much more to my liking is the Mixaeo chicken or shrimp with julienned vegetables, a basic but tasty noodle dish that compliments the freshness of the Bo Bun. The mixture is judiciously lubricated with oil, which is often used to change the primary constitution of a dish at Le Bol, including its texture and mouth-feel.
For dessert Le Bol serves sweet and creamy homemade yoghurt in dinky’just right’ glasses. Other options include Italian glace ice-cream, fresh seasonal fruit or fruit fritters. CafÃƒÂ© lattes are Vietnamese style made with condensed milk; so don’t reach for the sugar unless you want a coronary. Although the food at Le Bol can be rich, it comes in dainty, perfectly judged portions, balanced by fresh, flavorful salads rich with mint, coriander, and zingy dressings. I loved everything about this vibrant, laid-back Vietnamese, which somehow captures the very spirit of Marrakech.