|Hearty and homey: Beef bourguignon
The fresh scent of Da Lat pines and wildflowers pervades a tiny but trusty restaurant built in a train compartment. Vo Le Hong reports.
"I ‘m going to take you for dinner in a place I'm sure you will like," my nephew told me mysteriously when I landed in the resort city of Da Lat after a 45-minute flight from HCM City.
Da Lat is my hometown, but I had not been back for a while. There were lots of changes and several surprises, one of which was Dalat Train Cafe (in another place, you call it "Dalat Train Villa & Cafe").
The restaurant is a refurbished old train coach. As you enter, classical music wafts from an antique gramophone and a speaker that looks like a lily.
As we take our seats, I notice the impressive twilight view through the windows, which for a moment makes me feel like I'm sitting in a train and going past Da Lat's architectural attractions.
|Outdoor essence: The smell of pine trees and wildflowers permeates a salad dish.
Lycee Yersin High School (now Da Lat Teachers College) is one of the 1,000 most impressive structures of the 20th century, according to the World Architect Association; the Da Lat Map Factory harks back to the early history of a city that was founded 120 years ago.
Numerous photos of old trains adorn the walls of the restaurant.
The Dalat Train Villa & Cafe is owned by Thu Thuy and Curtis King, who also run the Dalat Escape Music Band. King is an American musician with a love for trains.
In the quiet ambience inside, it feels as if the food takes on an unusual, delicate taste. Has the scent of pines and wildflowers from a garden nearby or from the forest on the misty mountain actually permeated my salad?
My nephew orders a king's platter with three kinds of cheeses – Camembert, blue, and Gouda – smoked garlic sausage, fresh fruits, nuts and crackers, served with various kinds of breads (VND275,000) and a pumpkin soup (VND55,000).
|Small but splendid: The refurbished rail coach that is the Dalat Train Cafe
I ask for fried spicy beef served with French fries (VND155,000). I enjoy the soft beef cubes infused with the flavours of green pepper and onion.
We do not forget Da Lat red wine (VND39,000/glass).
I also get my favourite artichoke flower soup, (VND55,000) a Da Lat speciality that would help me sleep well in the cold night.
For dessert, my nephew orders a plate of mixed seasonal fruits (VND75,000) while I choose fresh strawberry, a specialty grown in many farms around the city, with sugar. Now farmers use clean techniques to grow strawberries for local consumption and export.
"There is a good selection of Western to Vietnamese foods, with the latter being particularly good as they are based on local recipes," Howie Rosser, a Welshman and a regular at the cafe, says.
"The old train coach was brought up to Da Lat by road from HCM City and refurbished.
"The quiet location and unique decor make it a pleasant dining experience."
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Dalat Train Cafe
Open daily: 8am-10pm
1 Quang Trung Street, Da Lat
Tel: (063) 3816365
Comment: Good food, beautiful view, reasonable prices
Pierre Relave, a French diner, tells me: "The place is cute. The waitress here is kind and professional. It is easy to come here with the family. Everyone can find what they like. And one important thing for me is that the wine is not expensive. In some restaurants, they have no wine or the wine is very expensive.
"I had cha gio (Vietnamese spring roll) and then beef with rice and vegetables. Everything was good. But there were too many cha gio; I couldn't eat them all.
"I had banana split for dessert made from chocolate ice cream, vanilla ice cream, strawberry ice cream and banana. I love it. In France we add Chantilly cream and hot chocolate sauce, but in this restaurant they do not. But it is good!"
Sitting there afterwards, ruminating on my dinner, I remember thinking, "One more reason to visit my hometown more often." — VNS