Peter Cornish investigates Secret Cottage, the newest member of a very special secret society in Saigon. Photos by Angeli Castillo.
This place isn’t staying a secret for long, you can be sure of that. Secret Cottage is the latest in the portfolio of restaurants by Tran Dinh Huy, and it’s all about lifestyle, combining the best of Western and Oriental fusion drawing influences from Huy’s travels and experiences. This downtown hideaway is sure to become a favourite among expats and locals alike.
We entered Secret Cottage through a narrow tourist shop selling seagrass handbags and hats, up a staircase covered in swimming golden Koi to a room of concrete floor, whitewashed walls and distressed wooden windows. Surrounding us are antique oriental objet d’art from Myanmar, Bali and Vietnam that promote Asian culture throughout the restaurant.
A well-stocked, polished metal bar sits next to a shallow pool crossed with a stepping stone path that leads to the stairs taking us to the roof. We pass through a small, working garden of herbs and past free roaming chickens to another small set of stairs up to the top terrace divided into an enclosed, glass walled room and a set of Moroccan arches covering a seating area. It feels like a secret attic, partially inside and partially out, decorated with more north African and oriental objet d’art.
With the help of two small children we quickly got stuck into the menu. First up was hai san nam nuong giay bac (VND150,000), seafood and mushroom bbq-ed in aluminium foil like a Vietnamese casserole with a strong French influence. The carrots added a delicious sweetness to the mushrooms and perfectly cooked seafood smothered in a Vietnamese-French fusion of soy sauce and butter.
Coun diep (VND115,000) was served next, with nice fresh prawns and pork rolled in tangy mustard seeds accompanied with a traditional dipping sauce. This was brought with com chien Secret Cottage (VND135,000), a deconstructed fried pandan rice with dried baby prawns, vegetables, fish, fresh boiled vegetables, coconut, carrot and puffed rice for a delicious crunch.
The vegetarian among us, me, tried the bun xao chay (VND85,000) stir fried Vermicelli with tofu and a mix of mushrooms and shredded vegetables, full of fresh flavours and a hint of heat that lingered at the back of the mouth and top of the throat. The goi cuon ga nuong trai bo va gao luc (VND95,000) spring rolls with grilled chicken, avocado and steamed brown rice came with a divine creamy peanut dipping sauce.
The food was washed down with a pho traditional cocktail (VND150,000) mixing Tanqueray gin, Cointreau, cinnamon and cardamom into some sort of Vietnamese alchemy with all the fragrance of pho but with a sweet chilli follow through. An adult cocktail that tastes like pho yet not pho in a really really good way. While the adults were happy with their cocktails the kids’ favourite was banh chuoi nuong (VND40,000), a custardy baked banana cake covered in a sweet coconut cream sauce.