by Xuan Hiep
|Popular spot: Although Vietheritage is a new restaurant, it has already acquired a regular clientele, many of them foreigners. — VNS photos
|Floral touch: Com hap la sen (shrimp and pork rice steamed in lotus leaf) is one of the restaurant's specialties.
|Hearty broth: Canh chua (sour soup), a popular southern Vietnamese specialty, combines a number of vegetables and seafood.
Address: 48A Vo Van Tan Street, District 3, HCM City
Tell: (08) 62 727 837/ (08) 39 302 306
Hours: 11am – 10pm
Price: VND132,000 – 300,000 (US$7 – 14)
Comment: Middle-to-high end restaurant, authentic Vietnamese cuisine, tasty dishes, tasteful, traditional architecture design, cosy ambience, attentive staff, prime location. Two-storeyed restaurant can accommodate up to 200 guests.
I am one of those lucky guys with a mother whose passion to feed her offspring produces culinary masterpieces day after day.
I am also fortunate that she can cook just about every Vietnamese dish I like from all parts of the country, be it the cha gio (spring roll), canh chua (sour soup, both southern and northern styles), bun bo hue (Hue style beef noodles soup), thit kho trung (braised pork and eggs) or thit nau dong (braised frozen pork).
That said, I am also someone who likes to eat out. But having a chef like my mother at home means the bar is high for all restaurants serving Vietnamese food.
So, when I was invited last week to try a newly opened restaurant serving "authentic Vietnamese cuisine" from all the three regions of the country, I was curious, but not overly excited.
The restaurant is located in an alley off Vo Van Tan Street in HCM City's District 3, a walk of about five minutes from the famous War Remnants Museum,
The tastefully decorated exterior of exposed bricks, tiled roofs and ornately carved wooden windows with some greenery on either side made an immediate impression.
There was a sure touch of traditional Viet Nam about the architecture and design, reflected also in the name of the restaurant – Vietheritage.
Vo Duy Nam, the 34-year-old restaurant manager, said the aim was to provide an "eco-friendly", fresh, natural ambience in which guests could enjoy good food.
I did notice that the air-conditioned interior did not prevent the natural sunlight of the evening from coming in through the windows. Wooden chairs and tables, bamboo lanterns and large sections of exposed brick walls were all arranged well to create a cosy ambience.
The staff, dressed in traditional attire, were charming and graceful in their welcome. We chose to sit downstairs (the restaurant has two storeys) next to a nicely decorated pond.
Things were looking good, for sure. Would the food match?
Manager Nam's enthusiasm for the fare served at Vietheritage was evident as he made recommendations, providing detailed descriptions of each dish and the care taken in preparing them.
We decided to go with goi tom rong tao bien (Seaweed and shrimp salad) for the appetiser. The seaweed was clean and green and the shrimp were fresh, and the portion was generous.
After the appetiser, I chose com hap la sen (Shrimp and pork rice steamed in lotus leaf), a simple dish made more delicious by the fragrance that the lotus leaves imparted. The crispy rice and the soft lotus seeds went very well with the shrimp and pork. It was so delicious, I could recall the taste long after the meal.
The dish should be eaten hot to get the full impact of the lotus leaf fragrance.
On Nam's recommendation, we also ordered ca chien sot cam (Fried fish served with orange sauce). This is where things got different from mum's cooking. I never imagined eating fish with a fruit would feel so good. This was a great discovery.
Nam said that the orange sauce, made with orange, passion fruit and other ingredients, smothered the smell of the fried fish. There was not a drop of the sauce left when we were done.
I could not help but order a canh chua (Southern sour soup with shrimp) as well, my all-time favourite Vietnamese soup.
The soup has similarities with the famous tom yam kung (hot and sour soup with shrimp) from Thailand, but is less spicy and sweeted because of the pineapple. I would heartily recommend this soup, and am glad to report it was all it is meant to be at Vietheritage.
We were full after we had the soup, but wanted to wash down the superb meal with a fresh fruit drink.
I intended to order a guava juice, but Nam recommended that I try it mixed with passion fruit. It was a perfect combination.
The restaurant menu, in English and Vietnamese, lists more than 20 main Vietnamese dishes on its menu. Some of the more interesting dishes include vit nuong rieng me (roasted duck with galingale and fermented rice), vit nau bia tuoi (duck cooked with fresh beer), bo nuong mat ong (beef grilled with honey) and dau hu Ma Lai hap so diep (steamed beancurd stuffed with scallop, Malaysian style).
It also has a good selection of fruit juices, but I would let Nam make some recommendations next time as well. Most of the staff of about 10 people spoke English and provided attentive service. Soft Vietnamese traditional music, played live, enhanced the dining experience. They would, at times, play songs from other countries as well, depending on the nationality of their guests, said Nam. About 70 per cent of his customers are foreigners, he said.
"We aim to introduce Vietnamese dishes and Vietnamese culture through cuisine to foreigners so they can understand our country in greater depth," he said.
We were not foreigners, but we discovered some new facets of Vietnamese cuisine as well, and had a great time doing it. It was an experience we are looking to repeat. — VNS