Viet Nam News
Its location notwithstanding, Mountain Retreat is a world away from the pretension of big-city restaurants downtown. Mỹ Duyên reports on its rural, traditional dishes that attract a steady stream of diners.
Mountain Retreat certainly lives up to its name as it’s hidden away cleverly in an obscure downtown HCM City location. My colleague and I, taking a lunch break from work, thought we’d never find it.
But finally, after spotting the sign above a narrow opening, we realised we had to walk up five storeys to reach it. Fine, we thought. We had heard about its reputation, so we persevered.
Located on the top floor of a six-storey French colonial building on Lê Lợi Street, one of the city’s main boulevards, the restaurant has become a popular destination for tourists, locals and expats.
The dishes, blending subtle flavours, textures and colours, take diners on a gourmet journey from the north to the south and all the way down to the Mekong Delta.
As soon as we stepped inside, we found it fascinating, with its collection of imitation antiques of the late 19th century, earthen walls, palm-leaf conical hats, and a terrace with a fantastic city view, all of it inspired by the typical Vietnamese country house.
Receiving us at the door of the non-air-conditioned space was a young man wearing the traditional clothing of rural residents.
Old-style wooden furniture – shelves, tables and chairs -- created an intimate, family-like environment.
With more than 50 dishes commonly found at the daily meals of the typical Vietnamese family - from starters, soups, salads and vegetables to main courses and desserts – there is more than enough to whet our appetite.
As expected, all of the dishes are traditionally made and finely presented.
Subtle flavors: Homemade corn silk drink with ice. VNS photo/Anh Day
Standout appetisers include the deep-fried spring rolls (VNĐ75,000) and boiled beef wrapped with greens, aromatic herbs and rice paper (VNĐ105,000). Deep-fried bacon (VNĐ65,000), caramelised braised pork with eggs (VNĐ75,000), and deep-fried prawns with Mountain Retreat sauce (VNĐ105,000) are popular main courses.
Many of the dishes are served in clay pots, bowls and plates as well as raw bamboo tubes, implements found only in the countryside kitchen.
To start, we ordered fresh spring rolls with grilled meat at VNĐ75,000, served with sweet-sour fish sauce. The presentation, charmingly cute, was similar to that done with half-fried pork threads, a traditional specialty from the southeast region.
For a main dish, we had the lovely deep-fried prawns with Mountain Retreat sauce, perfectly paired with steamed rice. Truly irresistible, and a must-try dish. It was a finely harmonious combination of chopped green bell pepper and minced pork with sweet-sour flavours.
For those who prefer something lighter, salads include pomelo with pork and prawn (VNĐ105,000), lotus root salad with pork and prawn (VNĐ75,000) and banana flower salad with organic chicken (VNĐ75,000), each portion large enough for two or three people.
The arrangement of the banana flower salad caught my eye when I first saw it on the menu. Presented like a boat full of fruit, an image that reminds you of the Mekong Delta, the salad was so tasty we quickly finished it all.
Other signature dishes include pork ribs grilled with lemon leaves, deep-fried small mussel cakes with dill (VNĐ 85,000), and grilled beef with lemongrass (VNĐ85,000).
Like a boat: Banana flower salad with organic chicken, the most popular item at Mountain Retreat restaurant in HCM City.
Vegetarians will be pleased as well with the offerings. Deep-fried tofu with sate, bitter melon stir-fried with tofu, and deep-fried tofu with lemongrass and chilli are some of the non-meat dishes, all priced at VNĐ65,000 each.
Our culinary journey would not have been complete without a drink, so we had a homemade corn silk concoction (VNĐ20,000) and a red date and cinnamon drink (VNĐ30,000). In HCM City today, more and more restaurants are meeting the rising demand among diners for non-carbonated drinks.
Feeling delightfully full and thankful we were heading down the stairs, not up, this time, we went back to the office, happy that we had learned even more about our culinary culture. VNS
Mountain Retreat Vietnamese Restaurant
Address: 5th floor and rooftop, 36 Lê Lợi Street, District 1, HCM City
Opening hours: 10am-10pm
Comment: prime location, fine authentic food, lovely panoramic view and family-like ambiance