It was so nice to welcome Mina and her partner last week at Heron House and we were so touched that they chose our place and took such amazing photos during their time with us. We always love hosting guests from all over the world but when we get world travelers like these it really is honour for us to be told that Heron House was their favourite place in central Vietnam. Hope you like the photos as much as we do!
This fall has most certainly been the strangest one we have experienced in central Vietnam since we arrived. A rainy season that was all but nonexistent until late November and yet Hoi An was surprisingly quiet as the beaches seemed deserted despite the sun and hot temperatures. Add in a rising demand for special events for the expat population and forging some friendships with some young and upcoming chefs and the decision was made to start using Heron House for special events to get creative, fat, tipsy, and just generally spoiled! The culmination of all this being NOVEMBERFEST: a celebration of Belgian & German cuisine and the promise of hearty food to (one day) welcome some cooler temperatures in Hoi An.
We were lucky enough to welcome 22 hungry local guests to Heron House for some mean home style cooking in our beautiful colonial villa and I must say we did not disappoint! Chef Huu and Loic devoted some serious time to planning out the ideal Fall 4 course menu and started preparing some of the dishes days in advance to ensure that everything went smoothly. Everything sourced needed to be fresh, organic and home made so the boys went crazy in the kitchen making their own garlic mayonnaise, roasting peppers, crafting their own cheese croquettes, smoking their fresh sardines in the Texan smoker, and even using arugula and limes from Loic’s own garden.
It was in short a truly memorable night at Heron House and we hope you like some of our pics and the menu that follows below
Belgian Style Cheese Croquettes
Bruschetta of Smoked Sardines on a bed of roasted peppers, fresh garlic mayonnaise, and German beer bread
Tomatoes stuffed with sweet shrimp, mayonnaise, celery and granny smith apples, sitting atop a layer of fresh pesto, with an arugula & frisé salad
Carbonnade Flamande cooked for 9 hours with Wagyu Beef and Chimay Grande Reserve Beer, roux, and plenty of onions naturally. All served with a decadent layer of classic German mash with caramelized carrots, fried onion curls, and fresh parsley
Pears poached in a merlot red wine sauce of spices and lemon & orange zest served with home made vanilla ice cream and water apple compote
With help from Le Comptoir in Da Nang we were able to offer three beauties from Les Freres Marchand of 2 year old Comte, Reblochon and Loic’s favourite Mimolette Extra Vielle
The Fallout afterwards was predictable, lively, and utterly saturated with laughter, wine, and cocktails throughout the night. Cant wait to see what we try out next in December!
On the occasion of Marjorie Castro’s big birthday, her sweet sons organized a nice weekend family reunion and the request for a special night….and Heron House was more than happy to oblige as we cooperated with her sons to devise the perfect menu focused around locally sourced ingredients, free range poultry, and some new recipes we whipped up predominantly based on classic western dishes with a new oriental spin.
The results spoke for themselves as the birthday girl in question could not have been happier and Chefs Loic and Thanh loved talking with our guests and explaining the dynamics of each dish. Not sure if we quite competed with ‘Chef’s Table’ but I will say there were far more smiles around the kitchen.
Will be trying to share some of the recipes in question in the future, but for now we just wanted to share our menu, some pics from our lovely guests, and in general thank the Castro family for a memorable weekend!
Castro family dinner menuThe happy
The Castro family birthday dinner:
Marinated Mushrooms with toasted almonds on home baked toast canapés
A variety of 4 local white mushrooms marinated in an olive oil and raspberry vinaigrette. The perfect starter that will leave the hands dirty and the stomach happy
Chilled Mango Gazpacho with lemongrass sautéed shrimp
Hoi An’s very own take on gazpacho with a little chili kick and large chunks of fresh mangoes & tomatoes served with lemongrass sautéed shrimp and mint on top
Oriental Caprese Salad
Our local tomatoes are only enhanced with capers, Japanese seaweed, sesame seeds, and of course a large piece of fresh Da Lat mozzarella with sesame & oil dressing
Affligem Double beer Smoked Free Range Chicken and Duck
These birds sat on top of thrones full of Belgian double beer for 4 hours while sweating in our smoker and having their skins regularly basted in a maple syrup and thyme honey sauce. There are indeed far worse fates off for these birds
With baked potatoes topped with a mix of east and west
A simple twist on a classic, these baked potatoes are cooked directly on the charcoals and are served with sour cream, fresh chives, and Vietnamese fried scallions on top
And simple sautéed mushrooms with garlic butter and thyme
We love using the dark mushrooms grown in Da Lat and roasting them in the oven before tossing them in a simple butter and garlic sauce. The perfect partner for Daffy
Thanh’s own Tiramisu
Heron House’s own resident baker has made her own delicate tiramisu using fresh whipped cream and Vietnamese cacao powder. The perfect Birthday Cake!
Hanoi marks one of the largest parts of our love story and helps define us as the crazed couple that we are today :-). Of course there were sunny days and then days when the sun could not poke through. But in the end, this city of 9 millions will always be our home, where we would head back in search for comfort.
Our guests often ask us for recommendations for Hanoi and it always takes us a long time and much energy to select what we love most about the city. There were just so much that we miss, especially for the restaurant and bar scene, in this town. And even though we always head separate ways for food whenever we are back in Hanoi these days (me straight to the familiar street food joints and Loic for the Vietnamese fusion picks in a nicer setting), we have finally settled on a list of our top choices for the city. And granted you would need to stay for a month to enjoy everything we love to the fullest, this would hopefully give you an idea for an introductory trip here.
– Quan An Ngon – 18 Phan Boi Chau: Vietnamese street food in a French colonial courtyard. Very good Vietnamese noodles and snacks at a very good price, you can try everything in one place!
– Pho – 10 Ly Quoc Su St.: You cannot go to Vietnam without eating a bowl of pho, and there is no better place to do it than in Hanoi. We come here for breakfast sometimes and always have a good experience (good broth, quick service, clean setting)
– Green Tangerine – 48 Hang Be St.: We love this French Vietnamese fusion restaurant in a beautiful colonial house tucked away in the Old Quarter. The set lunch menu is very reasonable if you want something different
– Koto – 59 Van Mieu St.: Stop by Koto for a lovely Vietnamese lunch after you visit the Temple of Literature. This NGO-run teaching restaurant helps train many street youth for a career in Hospitality
– The Fat Pig – 74 Quang An, Tay Ho District: For those of you who are craving some taste of home, this craft brews and awesome BBQ has great view of West lake and delicious food to match the view
– Cousins – 3 Quang Ba, Tay Ho District: Voted best restaurant in Hanoi within the expat community, this hidden treasure offers a nice escape from the intensity of downtown with delicious homemade international food
– Pepe La Poule – 22 Quang Khanh St., Tay Ho District: An awesome rooftop expat restaurant with Japanese French fusion dishes that will not disappoint you. Our favorite place for a romantic date night for sure
– Barbetta – 34C Cao Ba Quat St.: This funky bar near the Temple of Literature offers a combination of retro-chic decor, cheap drinks and food, and a rustic rooftop bar. Try Loic’s favorite: the Russian green tea martini and let us know what you think
– 88 Lounge: 88 Xuan Dieu St.: This well-designed wine bar is where we spent 3 nights out of every week drinking with our expat friends. That should tell you enough about the place
You know the feeling when you live in a place for so long that you rarely break out of your own routines to explore your own town? Well, living in Hoi An has been quite a dream for us as we get to enjoy many different aspects of life, from sunbathing by the beach, lunch by the river, sunset cocktails by the rice paddies, to dinner in the old beautiful lantern town…, but sometimes it is so nice to take a road trip into the countryside to have a fresh look at our own beloved town from the eyes of a tourist.
So long story short, we had been meaning to take a day trip to Tam Thanh Mural Village for a while, but it was not until we met up again with our lovely guests Jean-Pierre and Tina, who had also been to Hoi An for three times and were looking for a new experience, that we were determined to drive one hour down South to see what all the hype about this place was about. And then came one of the loveliest days during our whole time in Hoi An!
If Tam Thanh was just another quaint Vietnamese fishing village in a little less than a year ago, it has now completely transformed into a beautiful living art gallery that celebrates the local culture, people and nature. This amazing makeover was thanks to a joint initiative by the Korean Community Art Exchange Program and the Vietnamese People’s Committee of Quang Nam Province to bring art to the people. The project was carried out over the course of two weeks in the summer of 2016 by five Korean artists, seven Vietnamese artists, and a group of local volunteers to complete over 100 murals. And the results are just astonishingly beautiful.
As we strolled down the main road of the village, we felt as if we had stepped into unicorn land with an unexpected explosion of colors. Each house had its own story with unique themes and color palettes, from beautiful Vietnamese girl with the most mesmerizing eyes, to funny character from Frozen popping out of an alleyway, to a piece of satire art with a hidden meaning. We even got to meet a tailor and his family who were the subject of a beautiful wall art in his own home. Every time we looked into an alleyway, we came across more beautiful murals trailing down the houses toward the beach. It truly was an amazing experience.
As a Vietnamese, I can really appreciate the effects of this project on the lives of the locals. In a way, the murals have really added a fresh breath of life into the Tam Thanh village. We met with proud grandmother who insisted us to go down her alleyway to see more hidden artworks. Group after group of young schoolboys with the biggest smiles waved and said hello to us as they passed by on the way home from school. The locals’ quality of living have certainly been improved thanks to large number of tourists visiting their village, but at the same time, you could still feel the warm and genuine hospitality through welcoming smiles and friendly waves. I really hope there would be more similar projects to bring spectacular works of living art to the many beautiful yet sleepy corners of Vietnam.
And here are some of the artworks that Jean-Pierre has skillfully captured to get you excited! Don’t forget to check out this amazing project to see all the other murals for yourself!
When we start our dream project Heron House, we envisioned a fun hang-out get-away haven for expats and tourists in Hoi An. A place where you can meet and make friends with like-minded people over rounds and rounds of creative cocktails while sunbathing by the swimming pool. It was meant (and equipped) to be a fun cool place for young couples and friends.
And while we enjoyed so much the company of various couples and groups of friends traveling through Hoi An, we soon realized our popularity among families with young kids. We love them and they love us back. It is great to see our young guests’ amusement when visiting the rice fields and making friends with our farm animals. Little Nick loved chasing after ducks while little Tilly wants to bring back a cow to Saigon. Since then we have tried to adapt to meet our little guests’ needs (plenty of crayons and toys for everyone!) and reaching out to different businesses in town to find the best activities for families with kids. Hoi An is indeed a great town for kids to explore and here are some of our recommendations to get you excited:
- Cooking class in Tra Que village
I always love to meet kids who are enthusiastic about foods and helping out in the kitchen. What could be a better way for the family to bond over flipping ‘banh xeo’ (our pancake) and making spring rolls. We usually recommend taking a half-day program with Water Wheel from Tra Que vegetable village, starting at 8:30am by bicycling to the local market, picking the freshest ingredients from their garden, making a big Vietnamese meal and ending the class with a food coma back at Heron House around 1:30pm.
- Building sand castles at An Bang beach
Every kid loves to spend all day long at the beach (while the parents can relax with a glass of wine or read a book). We usually recommend parents to take their kids on a nice bicycle ride through the rice paddies to get to the beach. Our personal favorite place to chill out at An Bang is H’Mong Sisters (look for beach chairs with floral covers!) with great BBQ dishes and a very relaxing vibe).
- Uncovering the mystery of the old town
Hoi An is a town full of history and legends, and we are excited that there just came a special way for kids and adults alike to explore the town. Halfway between a life-sized investigation, an original city-tour and a treasure hunt, Urban Tales Hoi An invites you to save the city from the mysterious Malediction of the Jiangshi. This 1/2 day excursion has been especially designed for independent travellers willing to discover the city by themselves. The scenario will lead visitors to some of Hoi An’s best parts: narrow streets, century-old wells, calligrapher’s studies and the unforgettable surrounding countryside. Good luck with the adventure and please don’t tell us the answer!
- Board game tournament at Heron House
We are proud to present you with a wide range of board games for family bonding time. From Jenga to challenge your skillful hands, Life to live a different life for the day, Sorry to bring out the ‘mean’ side in you, Monopoly the special Hanoi version and many more. This is the time when different generations come together and share many laughter in the comfort of our home.
- Learning how to make lanterns
Hoi An will certainly charm you with its ancient houses, colorful walls and beautiful hanging lanterns. And what could be a better souvenir to bring home than a really cool lantern that you made with your own hands? Our friends at Xu Dang Trong offer lantern-making class throughout the day so you can pop in any time for a quick treat. Let your kids bring a piece of Hoi An home with them to show off with their friends.
- Be crafty at the Terracotta museum
This is certainly not a full day trip, but it well deserves half of your day to explore all the cool little exhibitions at this museum. Opened in 2015, the park nestles in the heart of Thanh Ha ancient pottery village which is famous for traditional terracotta artifacts. Everything to the tiniest details was made with so much care, from the miniature World-Heritage-list sites around the world to the terracotta walls that told the stories of Vietnam’s struggle throughout history. Your kids can also join one of the on-site workshops to make their own souvenir to bring home!
Enjoy our Hoi An and let us know if you did something super fun in Hoi An that we miss here!
It feels weird to introduce the options for vegetarian restaurants in Hoi An after a blog post with recipe of 4-kilo smoked beef. But then again we thought the beginning of the year would be the perfect time to try to lead a healthy lifestyle and explore something different. Among all the culinary varieties that Hoi An has to offer, our guests are often quite interested in the many vegetarian places around town. We cannot write a better guide for you than our friends over at Hoi An Now, so here it is, all the amazing vegetarian options for your taste buds.
In general Vietnam is a great place for vegetarians. Vietnamese cuisine offers many meat-free options and, in Hoi An, most international menus have a vegetarian section. Indian, Mexican, Japanese and Italian are favored by local vegetarians in particular but there are several dedicated vegetarian restaurants as well that are so good that vegetarians and omnivores visit in equal measure. From strictly vegan to mouth-watering cream and cheese sauces; from soups and steaming hotpots to deep-fried delights and incomparable desserts – and it’s all often for a fraction of the prices elsewhere. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that if you’re not a vegetarian then dedicated veggie restaurants aren’t for you!
Roughly-hewn wooden furniture and wafting ‘Om’ mantras humming in the air immediately soothe the soul. The whole space is a design triumph, more befitting New York or Paris in a funky Buddhist way. With mains around 40,000 VND Am is the classiest, cheap setting in town.
Mushrooms, tofu, salads, soups and hotpot dishes with ever so fresh ingredients are deftly spiced revealing intriguing combinations of flavor and texture. For many, Hoi An’s premier Vegetarian Restaurant.
33D Ly Thai To; +84 (0)902 763 717; 9am-9pm
Annen’s laid-back outdoor style invites you to relax. Incredibly this comfortable setting has nothing on the menu over 45,000 VND! Standouts include the refreshing and light, Sup An Niem (Annen soup) and Cha Gio – incredibly moreish, fried spring rolls.
The ubiquitous stir-fried noodles with vegetables and tofu is one of the tastiest anywhere in Vietnam – a colorful concoction of fresh, crunchy carrots, green beans, red cabbage, onion, bean sprouts and button mushrooms packed together with lightly crisped tofu and soft noodles laced with soy sauce.
320 Nguyen Duy Hieu; +84 (0)510 3861 919
Vegan restaurant, Co Dam, is one of the cheapest in Hoi An. No names or menus, just choose from the six or so dishes of the day. Favored by Vietnamese locals not just for price (between 15,000 and 30,000 VND!) but also for authenticity. Many dishes resemble meat counterparts mirroring pork belly or chicken legs for example, in time-honored Vietnamese tradition.
The setting may be basic but this is the real taste of Vietnam – piquant and moderately spicy.
20, 71 Phan Chu Trinh; (close 8pm)
You share Jack’s Cafe with 70+ rescued cats who roam freely over an exquisite garden courtyard and even through ‘runs’ in the kitchen and other indoor areas. With so many cats its ideal for children. The menu changes regularly running from snacks like guacamole on rye, egg curry salad and crispy tofu and coleslaw wrap. Great coffee and fruit juices.
Small donation requested for cat welfare center. See http://www.vietnamcatwelfare.org/jacks-cat-cafe/ for availablity.
Take lane opposite 12 Le Hong Phong (not far from corner on the right); +84 (0)97 583 25 15
In addition to local fare the menu has a large selection of Indian and International cuisine and plenty of healthy juices. The Karma Waters’ Veggie Burger’s one of the best-value meals in Hoi An and many seasoned expats rate Karma Waters among their favorites.
No MSG, no sugar, no alcohol, no smoking. All dishes are vegan and home delivery is available. Note: closes 8pm
213 Nguyen Duy Hieu; +84 (0)510 3927 632; 10am-8pm
Minh Hien with its indoor, outdoor feel is a nifty place to ogle passers-by on Tran Cao Van. Delicate pumpkin slices, firm yet succulent; pork-free Cau Lau noodles swimming alongside fresh mint, salad vegetables and mushrooms; and sweet and sour straw mushrooms, moderately fired up with chili set the scene.
Vegetarian or otherwise, Minh Hien’s place as one of Hoi An’s leading value-for-money restaurants, is assured.
50 Tran Cao Van; +84 (0)932 403 905; 9am-10pm
A kissing cousin of the original Minh Hien on Tran Cao Van – this inexpensive vegetarian restaurant is great value for money. The lightly curried pumpkin and the wonton soups are favorites and the very spicy salad of green banana, mushroom, various greens, bean sprouts and chili is a knockout – literally.
At Minh Hien 2 the owners’ gentle spirituality permeates the service and is part of a package that’ll make you want to return.
30A Dinh Tien Hoang; +84 (0) 932 403 905; 9am-9.30pm
Frenchman Julien Prete brings European class to Nomad Cafe with scrumptious salads drizzled with zesty dressings and pastas with unique, homemade sauces. Other parts of the menu change weekly following Mediterranean or East Asian traditions always retaining Julien’s trademark flair.
Perhaps Hoi An’s closest to urban chic cafe foodwise. From Thai green curry to chapazza and focaccia; from empanadillas stuffed with fetta and mixed salad to penne with roast vegetables. Unique juice blends also highly recommended.
6 Le hong Phong; +84 (0) 907 489 129
Two 4-course set-menus lead the way (exceptional value starting from 70,000 VND). P & B is at the yummy, some might say naughty, end of vegetarian cuisine. Think deep-fried okra, spaghetti with a cream and mushroom sauce, cheese garnishes and lightly seasoned, fried potato medallions.
Stay away if in a hurry but, if you have the time, it’s one of the best value-for-money feasts going. So, what’s keeping you?
An Bang Beach; +84 (0)905 159 567
For us, the holidays are usually all about eating and drinking (and complaining about eating too much and then starting it all over again the following day). We are quite lucky that most of our guests are also food fanatics like us so we can spend hours upon hours talking about restaurants and recipes. This year, one of Loïc’s most popular holiday creations was the giant smoked beef we served on Christmas eve. Marinated for 24 hours with rock salt, Greek rosemary, zinfandel wine, worcestershire sauce and a lot of love, this recipe was so rich in flavors thanks not only to the new recipe, but also thanks to all the little local ingredients such as coconut shells, sugar cane husks, banana leaves (and also apple wood chips hand carried from America…airport customs agents must have thought that we were nuts). Anyway, no more rambling, here is the recipe for you!
2-4 kilos of Beef (Cube Roll if available)
Rock Sea Salt
1 bottle of Zinfandel wine
120-140 ml of Worcestershire sauce
1) Gradually start massaging the rock salt and rosemary into the beef after cutting off any excess fat. Depending on the size of the meat, this may take around 30 minutes to really work in the spices.
2) After the massage experience, place the beef in an airtight container and submerge the meat in Zinfandel wine and Worcestershire sauce. Be sure to use enough of both liquids to ensure that no part of the beef is exposed to air. Seal off the container and place in the refrigerator for between 18-30 hours.
3) Remove the beef from the liquids but be sure to save all the marinade as it will be used during the smoking process
4) Light up your smoker and burn the charcoal for about 30 minutes or until the charcoal is hot enough. After this (if you have access to it) begin adding coconut shells, sugar cane husks, banana leaves, and/or apple wood chips on top of the coals continually as you go along and add more charcoal as needed to ensure the temperature is sufficiently hot and smoky.
5) Once the fire is hot enough, place your beef in the smoker and let it slowly cook. The beef should have the remaining marinade brushed over it once after an hour and then re-brush the marinade over the beef every 45 minutes afterwards.
-depending on the size of the meat, total cooking time can vary between 3-4 hours on average but it can be useful to use a meat thermometer if available to ensure you don’t overcook the beef.
6) Remove beef from the BBQ, serve, and ENJOY!
Oh, you Glorious beef!
The moment of truth…
When you can see the smoke oozing out of the beef
Our guests ask for a more well done version but you can also have to medium rare too
We often joke how funny it is that we hospitality people only start our holiday once our guests have gone back to work. This year, our holiday feels so much different though. As we hugged our new year groups good bye and slowly took down the holiday decorations, we all felt a slight holiday hangover. As if our holiday has been over too. As if we are sending our friends off after such a fun party and not really sure when would be the next time we meet.
For us here at Heron House, this holiday season was truly about reunions. It was a father and daughter visiting his other beloved daughter and son-in-law in Vietnam from Africa and Europe. It was a high school reunion of three friends with their wives and kids who were living all over the world. It was a long-overdue family vacation with a lot of board games and laughter. It was exploring new places and making new friends for a pilot’s family. And for us as well, we got to welcome our two Greek friends into our home after meeting them at their home in Leros in our last summer vacation.
It was a special time for all of us. We hugged and drank and laughed and shared stories. I know Loic felt quite sad for not being with his family and friends for yet another Christmas so it was comforting to realize the number of friends we have made over the holiday.
The weather was not so kind to us over the holiday and we apologize for any hiccups you might feel during your time in Hoi An. We would like to thank you again for being a part of our holiday season and spreading the laughter and love. 2016 was a year full of challenges and difficulties but it marked a special chapter in our lives and we are happy we got to welcome the exciting new 2017 with you!
And here are some photos from our Christmas BBQ in the villa. Sorry we were so busy cooking and drinking and laughing that we did not have time for more pictures with the other groups. And thank you Quyen for stepping in and capturing these precious moments.
Our little Christmas tree with decorations from our little guests
Delicious mulled wine to start off the night
Clara is making special cookies for Santa Claus
Loic’s signature mushroom soup with truffle sauce
Slicing open the present, our 4-kilo smoked beef
Our lovely guests
… with Santa’s little helpers
Happy happy holidays from the Heron House team! Thank you for being a part of our journey in 2016. The year might have been rough and full of unexpected surprises, but now looking back, we are very grateful for all the new friendships we have gained, all the laughter we have shared, and all the memories we have made together. Heron House is a special chapter in our lives and we are glad we got to share this experience with the best group of friends we could ask for.
Wishing you a Joyous Holiday Season and A Very Happy and Peaceful New Years ahead, wherever you are in the world!
P/S: Van Anh tried to put real Santa hats on mama and baby buffalo but was getting really dirty looks from the mama so this is the best we can get, please excuse our poor Photoshop skill!)