THE SECRET GARDEN $$-$$$
The Secret Garden has a glorious French-colonial, garden setting that makes this hidden gem one of the prettiest places to dine in Hoi An. Off Le Loi Street down a tiny alley, the restaurant offers Vietnamese staples blended with the flavors of home. Occasionally, though, the fusion of Western/Vietnamese flavours can be heavy-handed.
On arrival, an expansive oasis of delicately shaped ponds and verdant plants emerges out of nowhere. Here small bridge walkways lead to a fabulous milieu of shrubs, climbers, white table cloths and wooden beams. I felt I’d been transported back to the 1940s, perhaps meeting some white-suited, strong, handsome, silent type with a fedora on his head instead of my friend, just arrived and seated with her motorbike helmet on.
‘You can’t get a prettier scene’, she murmured.
On the look-out for a man, this setting was catapulting her romantic fantasies into overdrive but I had to agree. It was nigh on perfect. The dulcet tones of the guitarist, a complimentary pineapple aperitif followed by a couple of cocktails. Life was fine, indeed!
Cocktails drained and half a glass of wine later our soup arrived: Chicken Pottage (with Lemon Grass) and Pumpkin. The fusion of Western and Eastern flavours is a delicate business and occasionally different flavours collide rather than complement — the Chicken Pottage creamy clash with Tom Yum-like lemongrass zest a case in point. The kitchen is very skilled but its adventurous combinations may not suit all so it might pay to ask for sauces on the side as we did for our second course. The beautifully-prepared, tender Beef with Mustard Sauce or the exquisitely succulent Mango Fish may be swamped if you don’t. There’s also something to be said for sampling your meal in its pristine glory and building from there.
On to dessert! Whatever you do, do not leave The Secret Garden without trying the Ice Cream with Rice Whisky. Whisky over ice cream washed down with coffee is a taste-explosive, toe-curling experience.
Updated February 2019