#TeamBride

Natalie and Kris were the first couple that chose Heron House to be their home for their wedding weekend back in July. We were honored to host Natalie and her bridesmaids on the nights leading up to the wedding and then the newly wed couple on their wedding night. It was such a pleasure to be able to witness so much love and friendship at Heron House that day. The bridesmaids and family were coming from all over the world to our little town of Hoi An to be with Natalie on her special day.

Thank you Aaron Joel Santos and the team at Hoi An Events for the amazing photos.

We look forward to welcoming Kris and Natalie back to Heron House in the near future!

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Aubergine49 – Hoi An’s Best Kept Secret

For us personally, Aubergine49 is the answer to everything.

“Where should we go for the upcoming anniversary/birthday?” – “Aubergine49”

“What’s the one restaurant that you can eat everyday at?” – “Aubergine49”

“Which restaurant would you recommend to all friends when visiting Hoi An?” – “Aubergine 49”

“What would be the last restaurant you go to if you were going to die tomorrow?” – “Aubergine49”

And it is so true, Aubergine49 is our go-to place for any major celebrations, having friends in town, recommending to guests for a nice treat, or even just for a ‘we haven’t been to Aubergine for a few weeks, let’s go’ kind of day. We love Aubergine not only for its consistency in producing a fine-dining experience, the amazing quality of food that you can only find at Michelin-rated restaurants in Europe, the attention to details in every little thing, and of course, the kindness and passion of the man behind it all: Chef Thinh.

You probably hear us talking about ‘our friend who owns this restaurant,’ ‘our friend who runs this bar’ all the times and wonder if we only select F&B people to befriend. The truth is that we love food so much that if we like a restaurant, we would go there so often that before we know it, we have become friends with the owner/chef. The same case went for Aubergine49. I always called to book directly with chef Thinh (a friend of a friend), and after the 5th or 6th time dining there, the mysterious chef came out when the kitchen closed to say hi and we all found ourselves talking passionately about food and life and everything in between for hours until all the lights on the street have disappeared.

After ten years honing his culinary skills under some of the world’s leading chefs such as Paul Gayler of London’s The Lanesborough Hotel, Rick Stein of Padstow’s ‘The Seafood’ Restaurant and Seiji Yamamoto of Nihonryori Ryugin (a three Michelin starred restaurant in Tokyo), local son and chef Nguyen Nhu Thinh has returned home to create a fresh new venue with global flavors. Like many of his mentors from two-star and three-star Michelin restaurants in London and Tokyo, Chef Thinh is a perfectionist when it comes to cooking and it truly shows in the consistency, quality and attention to details in each dish. We have never tasted anything that we did not go ‘Whoa’ at Aubergine. And to top that, every time we get so familiar with all of the food on the menu, Thinh changes everything up and introduces his new creations (which is rare in Hoi An as most restaurants cater only to tourists and thus never change their menu). As good friends with Thinh and his lovely girlfriend Kate, we are also lucky to enjoy the luxury of getting surprise dishes off menu, and oh my, aren’t they all great. To be honest, if I can trade one of my kidneys for his cooking talent, I would!

No words could describe Aubergine49 as vividly as the experience of dining there yourself. Our guests are always happy with the recommendations as they say they get the best meal at a fraction of the price they would pay back home in Europe. So here it is, Aubergine49 – our favorite restaurant in Hoi An and we hope you would enjoy it as much as we do too.

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Words of Encouragement

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Friends always think that we have a really cool job. Making drinks, talking with guests, chilling out by the swimming pool, living in this really cool town… Of course, we are so happy right where we are, but it is impossible to explain the long working hours, the stress of finding the right staff, the burden of getting our place more visible to the world. So, if you can picture how much motivation and happiness and energy and excitement we feel every time we read a review from our amazing guests. Well, multiple that by ten times and that’s how grateful we are with kind words from our guests.

Like this one from Travis and Camille, a lovely couple from the US that chose to spend 5 nights with us back in July. They were also the first couple that we went out for dinner with (a very boozy night at H’Mong Sisters indeed). Thank you Camille for a lovely drawing in our guestbook (it is exactly how we remember you guys!), and Travis for a beautifully-written review (our family thinks you must be, or should be, a writer!). We hope to see you guys again soon, in New York or Hanoi!

“Within this outpost of civilization and good taste, you will find wine, music, architecture, fluffy cotton towels, a gorgeous black-bottom infinity pool, and best of all, two perfect hosts and conversationalists, Loïc and Van Anh Diels. The staff, trained by your hosts and some of their international colleagues in the hospitality industry, is attentive and unobtrusive, which, as travelers familiar with Vietnam will know, is a perk not to be taken for granted. You will remember forever the rice paddies that sprawl into the mountainous distance around you; the loafing water buffalos, the perching storks. You’ll remember forever the house cocktails, conceived and executed by Loïc the artist, of lavender and rosemary infused gins. I say artist instead of “mixologist” because the latter term smacks of too much science. Nothing about this stunningly renovated French Colonial plantation house with gorgeous flooring and fixtures feels like cold, hard science even if your hosts both have masters degrees in hospitality and likely orchestrate very much when you aren’t looking. Finally, there’s the pricing. Belgian beers and imported wines are priced seemingly at cost. Guests will note a sense of honest restraint where they might elsewhere expect absurd mark-ups and service fees associated with, say, having food delivered or day trips organized. Here again we see that at Heron House the dismal science of life is suppressed, and the art of it set free.”

Pomelo Ginger Gin

It’s quite serious, Loïc has turned into some sort of chemist since we opened Heron House. He has dedicated his heart and soul (and probably liver too) to experimenting and infusing the best liquor and cocktails in Hoi An. And goodness, the final results are surprisingly good too. As much as I love the special Lavender G&T, which has become a part of my daily diet, I have to give Loïc credit for his creativity in turning the freshest local ingredients into delicious cocktails. And with the Vietnamese sweet pomelo in season right now, we have been busy testing out the best pomelo gin recipe to offer to our guests.

The Vietnamese pomelo is quite different from the grapefruit in America and Europe. Our rich clay soil and abundant amounts of water and sunshine ensure the distinctive sweet flavor in each juicy fruit. We experimented with mixing two different pomelo varieties in our recipe to produce a sweet but slightly bitter tasting cocktail. The left over pomelo meat after the infusion process was then preserved in the freezer to add texture and more flavor to each drink. Needless to say, this is one of our popular sunset drinks when our guests chill out by the swimming pool.

Enjoy the recipe and let us know if the pomelo or grapefruit from where you are can produce tasty cocktails as well.

Ingredients:

  • 45ml Pomelo-infused gin, using the best quality Vietnamese pomelo
  • 15ml Cointreau
  • 1 large spoonful of frozen pomelo (save it when you make the gin)
  • Basil leaves for garnish (straight from our garden)
  • 10ml Basil syrup (also made from the basil in our garden)
  • 120ml Soda water
  • Ice

Instructions:

  • Place pomelo gin, Cointreau, half of ice, frozen pomelo, basil syrup, and a tablespoon of basil leaves into the blender
  • Blend on ‘Icy Drink’ setting or equivalent if possible
  • Pour contents over some ice in a glass
  • Top off with soda water, stir, and serve chilled
  • Place basil leaves on top as garnish

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Our First Summer BBQ

During our time living in Hanoi, some of our best summer weekends were spent BBQ-ing with our friends at our rooftop apartment. We would shift from swimming in our rooftop pool, eating bellini popsicles, to sitting around the little balcony waiting for Loic’s famous yogurt chicken and Greek burger, and eventually moving inside for some drinking games or random Youtube session. With such great memories, we decided to invest in a nice BBQ the moment summer began. What is summer without nice pool BBQ parties after all, right?

Loic chose a custom-made Texan BBQ from a company in Saigon, and as you can guess from the name, it is huge! The BBQ also doubles as a smoker, which makes us immediately dream of smoked salmon and smoked sausages and smoked everything. We were so eager to try out the big boy that the moment we met David and his family who were hugely into food and having a good time, we had to ask if they would like to let us test out the BBQ and prepare them a special meal.

You can tell Loic was dying to get back on track with his passion of cooking the moment he started brainstorming the menu. After going through what we could pick up at the local market and big supermarket in Danang, we settled on pita with hummus and tzaziki to start, continuing with Loic’s famous watermelon haloumi with tahini honey walnut sauce, and finishing with a grand finale of big coconut-smoked platter: beef tenderloin, red snappers, potato with sour cream, and fresh vegetables from the organic garden (more recipes to come on the blog soon!).

The whole meal was such a big hit, and the conversations that carried on the night were even better. There was so much laughter around the table. David, Arlene, Mel and Alex were another group of guests that turned into our friends. We were even invited to visit their beautiful Airbnb castle near London (yes, we have friends who own a castle!). This new adventure has certainly taken us to places that we never thought of before.

Thank you everyone for such a good night and we hope to see you again in the near future!

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Thanh Ha Terracotta Park

We always tell our guests there are enough things to keep them busy for a week at this little town. We love going to the beach, diving, snorkeling, taking cooking classes, bicycling, shopping, sightseeing, eating, drinking and so much more! And just when we thought that we had already known the town as the back of our hands, there were something new to do! This time, it was taking two of our favorite guests to Thanh Ha Terracotta Park by the Pottery Village north of the Thu Bon river.

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. It took us a long walk around the property to understand why it had taken four years of construction to finish. 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. We also had to laugh at all the quirky statues randomly placed around the park. You can also join one of the on-site workshops to make your own souvenir to bring home, kids would love that I’m sure!

There are several ways to get here but we enjoyed a scenic route through Cua Dai – Tran Hung Dao – Hung Vuong that slowly weaved into beautiful country road all the way to the fish market of Thanh Ha village. The park is just a few hundred meters down the road to the left.

Hope this has given you a nice day trip idea to explore the surrounding villages of Hoi An. And thank you to Jean-Pierre and Tina for sharing the photos as well as a lot of laughter with us!

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Friends of Heron House

During one of the many long conversations we have with our guests, one of them asked, “What are the most challenging and rewarding parts of your job?” The question really got us thinking. Everything had been happening so fast that it left us little time to reflect on how the whole process of opening our little boutique Bed and Breakfast had been for us.

The question surrounding the most challenging part of our job is easy to answer: The Construction & Renovation!  Messy floors and a cluttered garden. Hundreds of construction workers and none of which seems to understand what you really want (Are we the only ones with these problems? Please tell us we are not alone here!). It was our first time working with such a major and close-to-our-heart project like this and we want everything to be perfect in the (many) ways that we have envisioned. And with our self-imposed deadline of 1 month to finish everything, we certainly put a lot of pressure on ourselves and our construction staff. It was definitely worthwhile in the end, however, when we were able to welcome guests in our home and hear about how they love the way things are put together.

And on par with the stress of making sure the construction workers do not skip a step, electrocute themselves, or just burn down our house with their cigarettes butts (can we squeeze in more complain time please!), the paper work required by the government is another part of the job that we have come to utterly dread. Having moved multiple times in the last few years and somewhat managed to live off the grid for the most part, we realize that with such a business, we have to follow the local laws closely, especially in this small town where we are not familiar with the system. And let’s just say, it would have made life so much easier for us if all the local offices could agree on the process (or at least pick up the phone to check with the other offices on said process). We ended up spending a large part of June in the middle of a heat wave running around town and hoping that THIS would be the final stop (Well silly, of course it wasn’t!)

Okay, enough venting for the month of July! Now on to the exciting part! We have thought long and hard about the most exciting part of this new job. And we realize that the thing that we love most about our job is something that we do not think of as a job at all! It is just spending time getting to know our guests, who we always come to consider as our friends. It is having long conversations over drinks to learn about all the exciting journeys our friends have taken to be here. It is sharing our own story, our dreams and visions since the day that we met. It is telling our guests about our own secret corners of Hoi An, the duck farm around the corner with the most beautiful late afternoon light, the short cut through endless seas of rice fields to get to the beach. It is seeing our guests taking off their shoes and running around barefoot for their entire stay (something that we always dreamed of for our place). It is the many late nights and early mornings filled with laughter and excited conversations. When you come to Heron House, you are not Mr. and Mrs. Smith, you are just Rachel, and Linh, and Justin, and Vinh and little Malo and many more, and our house always feels so empty when you leave.

We spent one year studying Hospitality at a Master’s level. And after all those textbooks and essays and dissertations, the secret in the end is just so simple. It is just the true meaning of the word ‘hospitality.’ With the fast-paced life in the city, most of us long for a human touch when we travel. We want to be valued, to be treated well, to connect, to learn a story and then to share our own. We have also traveled ourselves to some of the most amazing parts of the world, and when we try to remember a vacation once upon a time, it is always the faces and stories that we remember the most.

Whether that was how a Swiss guy and his girlfriend built an amazing quirky hotel in the most remote part of the Philippines. The Kotsou family from Moutsouna who sends us a Christmas message every year.  The manager at a beautiful retreat in the jungle of Sri Lanka with amazing stories of protecting the elephants. The warm-hearted chef in La Marche who sent us a bottle of wine to bring back for our parents because he ‘just loved’ our family. Our tour leader from Tao Philippines who invited us into her home and now we cannot wait to welcome her to ours. They, more than any of our teachers, have inspired and taught us the lesson that passion and love will open all the doors.

In some of the late nights when we sunk into the couch and exchanged stories of our guests on that day, Loic and I would wonder if the business keeps growing, would we still manage to remember all the names, and all the stories, and all the late night drinks we have had with our guests. Would we be able to spend this much time with our guests once we have kids? Would we still be full of passion and energy as we are today? We fell asleep in each other’s arms with so many questions hanging in our dreams. That would be tomorrow’s thoughts, as for today, we are just content with the company we have in our home.

So here come a few happy shots at Heron House! And many more memories to make!

A Bohemian Affair

It was one of those days that summer felt like spring. Sweet honey sunlight, cool teasing breezes, a perfect occasion to put on flowy dresses and add flowers to your hair as these beautiful ladies did for their friend’s bohemian chic bridal shower that Heron House got to host a few weeks back.

It was truly inspiring to feel so much love in the air. Born and raised in Hanoi but flew in from all over the places, the bride and her friends brought so much positive energy to Heron House. It seemed like just being together, catching up with random endless stories, laughing at past jokes, swimming and dancing under thousands of stars were more than enough.

They talked about everything, from friends who were much missed, secret crushes from the past to serious current issues, and where they would be even just one year from now. Life is full of changes but it is always comforting to know that you will never be alone.

Thank you the crew for letting us be a part of your big journey, it was so nice to host you, we hope the bride would come back soon with her then-husband so we can share more stories of future and past.

And thank you to Trang J.An for capturing these precious moments of a lifetime.

Big kisses from Loic and Van Anh.

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Getting from Cua Dai Beach to Heron House

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For any poor souls who may worry about finding their way from Cua Dai Beach to Heron House, we wanted to provide a brief instructional video on the 2 km ride by scooter to our little slice of heaven.  Hope you enjoy and remember that our staff are always happy to come find you if you should make a wrong turn in the rice fields!

Peace out, time to return to the beach!

Water Apple Jam

With summer officially arriving in Hoi An and our trees full of more fruit than we know what to do with, the time has come to get creative and ensure that our guests get to enjoy our fresh fruit long after our tree has run out of offerings for them.  While many people find the water fruit to be a bit too tart for many palates, we believe that with a bit of tampering we have created a universal favourite.

Though some of our guests prefer this jam to be served with our homemade bread at breakfast every morning, I have been equally content to serve it with a cheese plate in the afternoon or even piled atop a bowl of ice cream to be devoured on hot days by the pool.

Whatever your inkling, we find this option to be a new popular item that is moving fast.

 

Ingredients:

  • 500 grams water apples
  • 110 grams sugar
  • 5 grams of honey
  • 5 grams of vanilla extract
  • Heavy dusting of ground cinnamon to taste

 

Instructions:

  • Remove and tough parts of the water apples and dice up the rest
  • Liquefy the water apples in a food processor. Do not add water or liquids yet as the apples are predominantly liquid
  • Mix the sugar, cinnamon, and water apples thoroughly in an open wide mouthed pot before placing it on the stove over medium heat
  • Continue to stir your sweet concoction with a wooden spoon continually over the course of 30 minutes

(Note: If you have a bread machine this can be far more ideal than hovering over a stove for 30 minutes, but for those of us with stove tops, just be sure to be careful to watch the jam carefully while on the stove and to stir continuously or parts will stick to the bottom of the pan and the sauce may very well burn throughout)

  • Once the substance has begun to solidify and the excess liquid has burned off, remove your jam from the stove and allow to cool to room temperature
  • Once cooled off, stir in honey and vanilla extract to taste
  • Once satisfied, place spoon your finished product into air tight jars and place in the refrigerator so it can be enjoyed for a while to come.