Vietnamese Cuisine Heritage and Herefordshire!

(No.5, Vol.4,Jun-Jul 2014 Vietnam Heritage Magazine,Advertorial)

Dong Khoi Street, with its classic hotels, cafes, restaurants and specialist shops, is one of the most well-known of Ho Chi Minh City's downtown thoroughfares. Having opened only this April, the latest arrival at 23 is the ‘Kim Lam’, a traditional Vietnamese restaurant. The proprietors are not starting from scratch, however, being part of the same group as the well-established ‘Maxim's’ a few doors down. The front door decorated in red and black looks like a miniature portal of Hue's Citadel. Do not be fooled by the small size of the exterior. Inside, there are three levels of dining area, with a seating capacity of one hundred and twenty. Furthermore, this is a treasure trove of Vietnamese culture, packed as it is with glazed ceramics, wickerwork candelabra holders, birdcages, tropical hardwood screens, huge jars, a bronze bell and a massive Khmer bust among other objects d'art. The ‘Kim Lam’ has the perfect atmosphere in which to enjoy the very best of Vietnamese cuisine from the North, Centre and South. An amazing and unique bonus is that this place allows one to wash down their gorgeous dishes with the finest of English ciders from that quiet rural county of Herefordshire. Quite a fine marriage these two make, I discovered the other evening when I went there to dine with my teenage daughter, Angela.
This is fine dining. No matter what the regional origin of the dishes, they are all served in the Imperial Hue style. Forget the Western three-course meals. Here, you have to order quite a few dishes. The servings are quite small, as you are meant to savour the food. You fill up at the end with rice. The other point, too, is the artistic garnishing. Each dish here comes with a unique carving out of carrots. We had carrot fashioned into a bird, a flower, a fish and even a cyclo! It all added fun to the evening. We had trouble selecting from the rather extensive menu, but the very professional Captain, Ong Cao Quoc Thai, proved to be a shrewd guide.
Passing through a hallway containing the bar, we sat down in a cavernous dining room with a cream-coloured stucco frieze on one wall, hanging gardens on others and way up on the ceilings, skylights revealing the black of the night. If your evening is a romantic one, there are intimate tables with tall wicker chairs to provide a comfortable tete-a-tete.
First up, my daughter insisted, had to be soup. We chose the seafood scallop soup, which proved to be an excellent appetiser. Then came a scrumptious serving of young banana flower with chicken salad. This was followed by a squid dish called ‘Royal Calamari’. Served with a small salad, this came as a roll with duck egg in the mix and bread crumbed on the outside. It looked and tasted like a Scotch egg. No matter how long you have been in Vietnam, you are sure to find something new at ‘Kim Lam’ with its innovative chefs. Also new for me was the crab with passion fruit sauce. The last dish was a portion of grilled Asian sea bass (ca chem), the barramundi fish of which Australians are fond-a tasty morsel indeed to round off the samplings.
The final gaps in the stomach were filled with lemongrass -flavoured steamed rice and spinach. I had just enough room for a third bottle of Henry Weston Medium Sweet Cider. It was the perfect accompaniment to Vietnamese food, except for the moment when I accidentally bit into a red hot chili! My daughter had craftily left enough room for a dessert. She chose the double-scoop vanilla ice cream with French banana crepes in honey sauce, awarding it ten out of ten upon completion.
Whichever setting in which you chose to eat from-street food to the family diner to fine restaurants, Vietnam offers plenty of places to eat well. But for a cultural experience and to witness the heights to which Vietnamese cuisine can reach, I do recommend at least once on your holiday you splurge in a place like the ‘Kim Lam’. If you are a resident in the country, the ‘Kim Lam’ is also the place to take visiting friends or business colleagues to enhance their gastronomic and cultural appreciation of Vietnam. Long live Vietnamese food and may God bless the sweet green apples of Herefordshire.
The dishes quoted in this article ranged in price from VND85,000 to VND250,000 plus government taxes. The English medium sweet cider was at VND150,000 for a half litre bottle.

Kim Lam Vietnamese
Cuisine Restaurant
23 Dong Khoi St, Dist.1,
Ho Chi Minh City
Tel: (08) 6299-0879
Open daily for lunch and dinner.

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