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Secret House hides away in heart of HCMC

Update: July, 01/2018 - 09:00
Great beginnings: Off to a good start with Vietnamese mini pancakes, bánh khọt. VNS Photo The Nomad Quynh
Viet Nam NewsSecret House joins its sister restaurant Secret Garden to offer home-style Vietnamese meals in a tranquil and rustic setting at the centre of HCM City. The Nomad Quynh reports.

Gone are the days where it was hard to find a classy, modern yet casual Vietnamese bistro in HCM City with an interesting menu, good food, good service and reasonable pricing. Nowadays customers are spoilt with choices. Among them all, however, Secret House stands out and is now perhaps one of the most popular new destinations for food lovers.

When the restaurant first opened, I was eager to try it as I had always been a fan of their older sibling Secret Garden – one of HCM City’s staples for home-cooked Vietnamese food. Secret Garden has a very unique location on the rooftop of an old seven-floor apartment building, which is one of its charms but can also be a disadvantage, as there is no elevator and climbing up all those stairs might not be ideal for everybody. That problem, fortunately, was solved when the owner introduced Secret House.

Tucked away in a small quiet street just a few hundred metres from Bến Thành market – one of the famous symbols of HCM City – Secret House does offer some elements of “secrecy” as the name suggests. The entrance is carved with vintage wooden pallets, and upon stepping in, you will feel transported to another tranquil world, away from all the hustle and bustle of the city centre.

The restaurant occupies a fairly spacious area. The dining space is spread mainly on the ground floor, and there is a cute rustic attic with a few more tables. Outside there is a terrace which would be a perfect place to sit when the weather is nice, next to a small garden where the owner grows their own vegetables and herbs.

Similar to its sibling, Secret House’s menu offers a wide range of Vietnamese home-cooked dishes, regional specialties as well as popular street snacks. The traditional Vietnamese music playing in the background is quiet and relaxing, while the dark rustic furniture and simple yet welcoming décor will make you feel at home.

A smiley waitress dressed in Vietnamese village women’s traditional clothes ushered our group to a table I had reserved in advance. One of the perks of coming in a group is that you will have the opportunity to try several dishes on the menu, and that was exactly what we did as everything looked delicious.

For fans of seafood: Meat-stuffed fried squid. VNS Photo The Nomad Quynh
Fit for a king: Chạo tôm with bánh hỏi – a specialty from our old capital Huế. VNS Photo The Nomad Quynh
Lovely: The terrace overlooking a fresh herb and vegetable garden. VNS Photo The Nomad Quynh
Maybe a main course: Caramel-braised pork with young coconut. VNS Photo The Nomad Quynh

Our first dish was one of the signatures – mini savory pancakes called bánh khọt (VNĐ85,000). This dish comes from the central and southern regions of Viet Nam, with a fried base made from rice flour and many different toppings such as pork, seafood, stir-fried onions, etc. Among many interesting regional Vietnamese dishes, bánh khọt is one of my favourites because of the nice combination of flavours created from its slightly crispy base, its rich fillings and the additional sweet and sour sauce with various vegetables on the side. And Secret House makes a perfect version of it.

Our next dish was grilled-pork paste with lemongrass, nem lụi nướng sả. The pork meat, mixed with mushrooms and seasoned with herbs and spices, tasted wonderful when grilled with lemongrass. Again, the additional herbs on the side add even more depth to the dish.

Another menu item I was curious to try was deep fried sticky rice topped with pork and shrimp (VNĐ75,000), xôi chiên. I found the dish very interesting, as at first glance it looks similar to the bánh khọt above, but instead of the soft fried base made from rice flour, this is made with sticky rice, giving it a more crunchy taste. I’ll probably order this dish again on future visits.

If you like squid, the meat-stuffed fried squid is another good choice. The crispiness from the perfectly grilled fresh baby squid blends in nicely with the soft meat fillings.

Another popular dish is grilled beef wrapped in betel leaves, bò lá lốt, with peanuts sprinkled on top. It comes in several servings which are great as small bites by themselves or when eaten with rice. But I would prefer it were a bit less sweet.

Chicken roti was another favorite dish of mine this time. The chicken has a melt-in-your-mouth tenderness and at the same time is very flavourful.

Chạo tôm – grilled shrimp sausage on lemongrass – is one dish that originated in Huế, once the country’s capital and now a popular destination among both local and foreign tourists. What’s most special about this dish is the way it is prepared and eaten together with bánh hỏi, a specialty made from rice flour with stir-fried chives on top. This is one of the interesting regional foods you should try.

If you want something more like a main course that pairs well with rice, opt for caramel-braised pork with young coconut or tofu. Both are great choices. The pork is very tender and together with the crunchy coconut or soft, rich tofu, the dish offers a flavourful and wholesome taste.

Most dishes are priced under VNĐ100,000, which I find quite reasonable. The staff are friendly and professional, which adds to the positive experience. Every Thursday, there is a live Vietnamese musical instrument show from 7 – 8.30pm.

Overall, Secret House is one of the best options in HCM City right now for either a casual business meal or a friendly gathering, if you want traditional Vietnamese food in a homey and cosy venue. This is one of the venues I frequently bring my guests to, and would certainly recommend to others as well.

 

Secret House Vietnamese Restaurant & Cafe

Address: 55/1 Lê Thị Hồng Gấm Street, District 1, HCM City

Tel: 091 187 7008

Opening hours: Everyday from 7am – 10pm

Comment: Delicious Vietnamese traditional home-cooked food in a tranquil rustic venue.

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