EAT LIKE AN EMPEROR
Royal Hue Cuisine With Views Of The City's Skyline
VIETNAM’S CULINARY HERITAGE owes much to the insatiable appetite of the Hue lords. Known for their excesses in all things of the flesh, the Hue emperors were notorious for having hundreds of wives and concubines and demanding new dishes every day with some banquets said to have up to 300 dishes. This forced the royal cooks to come up with innovative cuisine, by some accounts leaving a legacy of up to fifty percent of all Vietnamese dishes.
Sadly, other than the ubiquitous spicy
bun bo Hue noodle soup and some cheap rice flour-based cakes sold street side, the breadth and beauty of Hue cuisine hasn’t been well represented in Saigon. Enter
The Hue House (Rooftop Master Building, 41-43 Tran Cao Van, D3), the newest in the collection of restaurateur Huy Tran, best known for his Saigon rooftop hotspots as well as Isaan-inspired Somtum Der.
Located on the 10th floor roof of the Master Building, Hue House opens up to a breezy space with surprisingly green views over the city, a feature shared with sister restaurants Secret Garden and Mountain Retreat. The décor is likewise simple yet elegant—bird cages repurposed into lamps, bonsai centerpieces in pretty ceramic bowls and lots of greenery to offset the surrounding cityscape. The space is anchored by a wooden pillared house with ornate wood carving, meticulously transported from Hue and rebuilt to house the bar and indoor seating area and providing a rustic contrast to the neighboring high rises.
Our meal began with a few appetizers including the Banh thap cam assorted platter of rice cakes (VND250,000), a giant plate of rice flour-based cakes, some steamed in banana leaf, meant to be shared between two. While all the usual suspects were present, it was the banh ram it that stood out, a dumpling stuffed with shrimp and pork set atop a ball of fried dough that was itself stuffed with a savory filling and topped with caramelized shallots, dried shrimp and scallion oil. Also unique was the Banh da tom chay (VND80,000) which looked like a Vietnamese version of pizza—a crispy, homemade rice cracker base topped with a layer of steamed rice flour crepe for a delicious contrast of textures along with shredded dried shrimp and a pile of fresh herbs, all to be dipped in a pungent fermented shrimp sauce.
For as many dishes as you order, each one will likely come with a different sauce, all made in-house, adding a joyous element of discovery for the more adventurous eater willing to live life beyond nuoc mam.
Another winning sauce came with the
Cuon diep (VND95,000), a quartet of beautifully wrapped lettuce rolls filled with shrimp and pork. The simple freshness
of the rolls provided a nice vehicle for the gritty, flavorful sauce made with ground chicken livers, pork and peanuts.
Other dishes on the menu highlight unique ingredients only found in Hue, like the Va tron fig salad (VND95,000) with shrimp and pork. While usually boiled, here the green figs are finely sliced and quick pickled for a refreshingly sweet-tart effect. While not yet on the menu, the BBQ-ed spare ribs (VND95,000) are a must-try ( just ask your waiter for them). Thick and meaty, the sate-marinated ribs come with a plate of crunchy greens and mixed rice, originally grown by minority groups in the Central Highlands. Another spicy hit was the Hue-style BBQ beef (VND125,000) which packed a punch thanks to a potent marinade of sate, chili and tiny bulbs of hanh tam, a pungent onion in the chive family, all served with rice noodles, crunchy pickles, plantains, star fruit and more sate sauce.
The Hue House sticks with the winning recipe of its sister restaurants—modestly sized portions at even more modest prices, encouraging diners to sample and share, which is why we ordered two more dishes that sounded too good to pass up—the Rice with seafood in clay pot (VND115,000), a treat for the eyes and the stomach with its seafood medley over tender rice boiled in chicken stock and flavored with turmeric, and the Banh canh ca loc (VND85,000), a hearty bowl of house made noodles, short and thick, like a souped-up version of udon. Where the snakehead fish is usually steamed in similar versions served in the Mekong Delta, here it’s stir-fried with fish sauce and spices, making the meat chewier, which stood up well to the earthy, flavorsome broth.
Curiously, the menu doesn’t include desserts, but there’s usually a dessert of the day on offer. When we visited, it was che bot
loc, little rice balls in an iced ginger syrup with coconut and peanut which provided a light, refreshing end to the evening.
Despite opening just a little over a month ago, The Hue House already has some buzz to it—almost filled to capacity on a recent Wednesday night when we visited, a delightful slice of Hue in downtown Saigon.
(clockwise from below: Banh thap cam, Cuon diep, BBQ-ed spare ribs)
Va tron, Banh canh ca loc