The Secret Garden restaurant is well named, with a couple of secrets you need to discover before sitting down to a hearty Vietnamese meal. First, the entrance is partially a secret and quite difficult to find as it’s marked by a small sign at the end of a busy alleyway. Second, and I’m letting you in on this secret here, the lift to the top floor of the old apartment block, all five of them, hasn’t worked in decades!
I arrived here to meet a local friend for dinner after having seen some pictures of the rooftop restaurant but not knowing about the lift situation, and by the time we made our way up the stairs my shirt was soaked with sweat from the climb and the high humidity. Charming.
To break the climb, there are a few humorous signs strategically placed in the stairwell allowing for a quick stop to have a look at them, and secretly rest the legs.
We finally arrived at the top of the stairs and found ourselves overlooking a very attractive outdoor restaurant, with plants everywhere, hence the garden part of the name. There are a lot of herbs and fragrant trees being grown, and a serene display of a Buddha statue sitting amongst the plants and overlooking a water pot.
Before we sat down at our table, we took the chance to take in the view from the top of the building. The view is as striking as it is interesting, as there is a chance to see the modern and colourful skyline pitted as a backdrop to the sight of surrounding apartment blocks and allowing a glimpse into the lives of the locals.
As an aside, on a subsequent visit to Saigon, I ended up staying at one of those older apartment blocks straight across from the Secret Garden through Airbnb and got a chance to experience that local way of life…being woken at 4.30a.m. each morning by a bloody rooster!
We headed back to the table to look through the menu, which isn’t too long. This is a blessing, as too many dishes coming from a small kitchen can be fraught with the possibility of reduced standards. There are, however, plenty of interesting choices to keep both meat eaters and vegetarians alike happy.
We chose a plate of spring rolls and a bowl of clams for the entrée. They were both tasty enough, as was the stir fried beef. The standout dish, though, was the grilled catfish with julienned mango. The fish was moist and the skin crispy, and the accompanying sauce, made with mango and fish sauce, set off the fish beautifully.
As the night sky got darker and the city buildings brighter, the Secret Garden put on a light show of its own with a wall of colourful and brightly lit lanterns, with another secret lurking behind the lights.
As we were leaving and walking past the lanterns, I noticed a cage with a bird of some sort. Moving closer, I saw that the bird was indeed a rooster. “Ha,” I said to my friend, “imagine if this rooster makes a lot of noise early in the morning. It would really annoy the neighbors!” Little did I know.
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