Kung fu film fans can enjoy a unique experience at this themed beer garden,Hoa Son Tuu Lau. By Lorcan Lovett. Photos by Vinh Dao.
27-year-old Phan Minh Thong’s love for martial arts films has extended from the weekends of binge watching fight scenes to opening up a kung fu-themed beer garden.
He launched Hoa Son Tuu Lau in District 11 seven months ago with the help of his old university friend, Linh Nguyen, 27, and word-of-mouth among the local market has seen the place soar in popularity.
It’s a wide, open courtyard that looks cannily suitable for some elaborate action sequence, peppered in Chinese lanterns and fruit trees with a balcony overlooking the patrons.
At the entrance, pieces of falling lekima fruit may test visitors’ reactions, while those who make it safely to the back are greeted by the pleasant sight of blossoms painted on the walls.
As we sat ourselves on one of the benches, staff donned in kung fu attire poured Tiger bottles (VND 16,000) into bowls – the standard drinking vessel for any self-respecting film extra in this genre – and dropped in fresh ice.
One of the main draws is that the waiters speak like actors in old Chinese films, but this becomes redundant for non-Vietnamese speakers, as the employees don’t speak English.
Every item on the menu has a special name related to characters from the books of veteran Chinese novelist Kim Dung, but, again, non-Vietnamese speakers miss out on the gimmick as Vietnamese is the only language used.
We ordered Nuoc Mat Co Long (Tears of Ms Long, VND 99,000), which were slices of beef pasted with chilli sauce and then huddled next to a spring onion and wrapped in lettuce. Those brave enough can dip the bundle into a potent mustard dip; strong enough to make the diner cry, hence Ms Long’s tears.
The waitresses then refilled the bowls, dumping the old ice into a bucket and plunking in new ice from a different bucket (refreshingly hygienic compared to some Vietnamese restaurants).
A cut-out pineapple filled with fried rice, vege and fruit (Ve Thanh Duong Suc, VND 79,000) was a good accompaniment to their best-selling dish, Duong Qua Ban Bi Gio (VND 169,000).
The latter was a plate full of fatty pork cased in crispy rind and served with thick chilli sauce. The meat bonanza continued with fried pig’s stomach (VND 89,000).
Sharing the food between friends is encouraged, as is the social atmosphere.
“I wanted to create a space where everyone can live in a different world because life in Ho Chi Minh City is so busy,” says Thong.
The alluring idea of a kung fu themed setting is a hit with Vietnamese people, with another venue set to open near Tan Son Nhat Airport in March, but until the menus and staff embrace English, the beer garden will remain a hidden dragon among the international crowd.
Alley 120 Nguyen Thi Nho Street, District 11
Tel: 08 6265 2388
11am – 11.45pm, 7 days