Family Dining

A one stop eatery specializing in tea, coffee and hearty food

By day, Hatvala on 44 Nguyen Hue, D1 is gaining a deserved reputation as a destination for quality espresso coffee and one of the broadest ranges of hot teas in town. But Hatvala also has a full bistrostyle restaurant offer, merging elements of Vietnamese and Western cuisine into an
unusual and eclectic menu to suit all tastes. From breakfast and lunch through dinner, it’s a friendly haven for tourists, expats and locals alike with modest price points, attentive service and a relaxing environment suited to business meetings or catching up with friends.

Owner Geoff Hopkins came to Ho Chi Minh City to work in IT but has since opted for a ‘seachange,’ turning tea and coffee trader and restaurateur.

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Even though he combines both East and West qualities into his food, Geoff makes no such concessions to the Vietnamese palate when it comes to coffee – you won’t find ca phe sua da here!

Dinner menu starters include such staples as deep fried spring rolls, taro with shrimp, crispy tofu and grilled pork skewers (all from VND50,000 to VND95,000), along with salads, soups and the more exotic fresh soft shelled river crabs fried in butter and garlic. Mains include grilled mackerel wrapped in banana leaf, fried stuffed squid, grilled pork and honey, beef steak, salmon and five spice beef with rice – along with the traditional Vietnamese diced beef luc lac. All range from VND115,000 to no more than VND255,000 (for the beef). There are also rice, noodle and claypot dishes and a selection of simple desserts.

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The Meal
On the ground floor is a cafe with a state of the art coffee machine and a tea room for sampling sessions or groups. Upstairs is an intimate, air conditioned restaurant area where we were fortunate to snap up the seat beside the large window and indulge in the never-ending entertainment of watching cars and motorcycles narrowly avoid each other at the ‘clock roundabout.’

While we carefully selected our entrees and mains, a charming waitress brought us a plate of fried rice paper to crunch on, along with free water (still all too rare in Ho Chi Minh City) and we selected a bottle of Venisquera Yelcho Reserve Especial Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile’s Colchagua Valley (VND549,000) from a small but carefully compiled wine list.

For starters we opted for the contrast of pumpkin flowers stuffed with pork, mushroom and onion (VND69,000) and – at the waitress’ suggestion – a selection of deep fried spring rolls (VND52,000).

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The pumpkin flowers were unusual – pan fried rather than deep fried, thus soft and moist rather than crunchy and decidedly better nutritionally than the spring rolls. They were deliciously peppery, but the sweet sauce tempered the de facto spice feel and they proved moorish and decidedly filling. There were six rolls – two each of pork, shrimp and vegetable – while light and tasty, some diners may prefer them to have just a little less oil on the plate.

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For mains we again opted for something recommended and something unique: rolled beef with peanuts and herbs (VND164,000), and grilled duck (VND189,000). The rolled beef definitely excited the tastebuds; it was tender and fragrant, the filling comprising basil, peanuts, honey and seasoning – a unique combination by any measure. The beef had clearly been marinated in a Vietnamese sauce and the rolls had a barbecued look and scent, but were evenly cooked, not charred or dry. Three rolls were served with a tasty salad, fresh green peas and baby corn. This is a dish we definitely recommend for those seeking something a little out of the ordinary.

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Our guest assured us the duck was tender and well cooked, not chewy or stringy. While she usually prefers her duck a little rarer she could not fault the flavor. The dish comes with three sauce options: tamarind, orange or green pepper, an impressive choice for a duck dish. It was served with sautéed potatoes and salad.

We left Hatvala feeling content and well fed. We enjoyed tasty hearty cafe food, served by attentive, friendly staff who treat diners like family rather than customers. And the price point is very reasonable, whatever the dining budget.

Images by Quinn Ryan Mattingly

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