A District 1 teahouse specialising in a medley of northern Vietnamese teas and grilled fare. By Ruben Luong. Photos by Christian Berg.
Opposite the Sunwah Tower on Nguyen Hue, Hatvala is a small teahouse-cum-bistro ensconced in the downtown hub. Its interior is fitted with oak furnishings and elegant tea photography. Lime walls are complemented with facades of woven water hyacinth, giving the space a chic vibe.
Owners Geoff Hopkins and Nguyen Thu Ngoc opened the place two months ago to highlight Vietnam’s quality tea. They travelled for three months to find the best leaves, which come from wild tea trees and estates in far-off provinces of north Vietnam.
In the sleek downstairs bar area, there are seven types of Hatvala-branded teas available to buy and take home (VND 44,000-VND 289,000). The teahouse also offers a free tea tasting to learn more about each brew and the province from which it comes.
Upstairs in the patio-like bistro, Hatvala’s menu lists a veritable banquet of fancy Vietnamese dishes. Most are grilled meat and seafood meals, like the salmon-rolled pork with ginger sauce (VND 184,000), beefsteak grilled in butter (VND 255,000) and grilled mackerel wrapped in banana leaf (VND 135,000).
The pomelo salad (VND 95,000), easily my new favourite, has the fruity pulp, shrimp, minced pork, peanuts and peppers tossed within an immaculately carved pomelo shell. It was simple and fresh, with a splash of cold lime juice for a memorable, brisk flavour.
Then I moved on to the grilled duck in orange sauce, served with grilled potatoes and salad (VND 189,000). The slices of duck were bite-sized and had a good consistency. The glaze of orange sauce gave the duck added zest, although consider the duck prepared in tamarind or green pepper sauce for a kick.
The grilled seafood skewer with rice in pineapple (VND 159,000) made me feel closer to the beach. The briny assortment of shrimp, fish, squid and scallop grilled with a chilli-honey-and-paprika marinade was mouth-watering. Each bite was soft and tender with a smoky flavour.
I later returned downstairs for a tea sampling. The Mountain Mist white tea (VND 80,000), a light variety from Suoi Giang province, was pleasant. Its standing tea leaves were interesting to watch while it brewed in a clear glass kettle, and it made me want to learn more.