At midnight on a Saturday, I received a text message from a colleague asking me if I have heard of this new Vietnamese restaurant. “Check out Hoang Hau,” he mentioned. “They have a Google rating of 4.8 stars, and the best part, no one has yet to report on it,” he added.
Honestly speaking, I’m embarrassed to say that I practically know nuts about Vietnamese food. Never have I written an article about this cuisine, and beyond the likes of pho, a plate of rice rolls, and a serving of banh mi, everything else seems relatively unfamiliar and somewhat new.
Intrigued by what Hoang Hau has to offer for it to earn its Google rating, I decided to research more into the restaurant. At this point, I realised that this eatery is one unlike most of the mainstream Vietnamese restaurants we usually frequent. There is one particular dish on their menu that caught my attention, and for that, I was determined to give Hoang Hau a try.
Now, this is my chance to explore a brand new side to Vietnamese cuisine—with fresh perspective, minimal comparison, and absolutely no bias.
The taste of tradition seeps right into the dipping sauce at this restaurant located along Jalan Bukit Merah. Whipping up a storm in Hoang Hau’s kitchen is a true-blue Vietnamese chef who used to work in Empress Porridge. Impressed with their chef’s culinary flair for his hometown cuisine, the owners of Empress Porridge—who are also lovers of Vietnamese food themselves—decided to open up a casual eatery with the aim to bring a taste of Vietnam to the neighbourhood.
With that, Hoang Hau opened its doors to diners, taking every customer on a culinary journey along the banks of the Red River into the capital of Hanoi, where food meets culture at its best.
What I tried
My meal at Hoang Hau started strong with a powerful appetiser, the Lemongrass Chicken Skewer (S$3.50 per stick). Served on long sticks of fresh lemongrass, these skewers seemed to me like buff satays after a gym session. Despite their thick and hefty appearance, they were surprisingly tender and juicy on the inside.
Here, the minced chicken soaked up the refreshing fragrance of the lemongrass. Every bite exuded intense, gusty flavours of the spices alongside the beautiful citrusy aroma of the shrub-like herb, resulting in an appetiser that will prep your appetite for the rest of the meal.
Wrapped in banana leaf, Hoang Hua’s Grilled Catfish (S$23.80) caught my attention with its rustic plating and herbaceous scent. Marinated for two days with a unique blend of spices and lime, the skin of my Grilled Catfish spots a gelatinous texture whilst its flesh remains soft and flaky.
Instead of an earthy, muddy taste that most of us associate with the catfish, the entire fillet had an immaculate savoury flavour. Like me, if you are a fan of coriander, consider savouring the Grilled Catfish with the fresh coriander provided. Trust me, that bit of freshness makes a difference.
How can we miss out on a plate of Pork Bun Cha (S$13.80) during our gastronomic trip to Vietnam? Originated in Hanoi, Hoang Hau’s Pork Bun Cha consists of white rice noodles, crowned with aromatic escalopes of grilled pork slices, pork balls flanked by a couple of golden fried spring rolls.
Served with a bowl of sweet yet tangy broth by the side, the rice noodles when adorned with the piquant sauce, were a culinary wonder. They were equal parts savoury and sweet, carrying a refreshing, vibrant flavour that felt like the caress of a summer breeze.
Complementing the slurp-worthy rice noodles were the grilled pork slices and pork balls. Smoky and seared at all the right places, both the proteins were satisfying bites of joy that will keep you going back for more with their alluring umaminess and pleasing mouthfeel.
My meal came to a comforting end with a claypot of Freshwater Eel Porridge (S$18.80)—the main reason for my visit to Hoang Hau. Unlike your average porridge, this golden bowl of delight was bold, potent, and not so typical.
A dish which many Vietnamese restaurants avoid due to its tedious and long preparation process, the Freshwater Eel Porridge is one that deserves the highest and most generous of praises. Prepared using Indonesian yellow eels which were cleaned to remove their intense brininess, the eel slices in the porridge were texturally sinful to the lips.
Pairing perfectly with the light and fluffy porridge mixture was a fun melange of textures attributed to the addition of crispy fried shallots, Chinese parsley, and roasted peanuts. This was one dish I found myself going back one scoop after another. Despite its humble appearance, Hoang Hau’s Freshwater Eel Porridge hits you in your sweet spot, magically causing you to crave for more even after you are done.
My meal at Hoang Hau opened my eyes to a handful of unconventional Vietnamese dishes the restaurant had to offer. As a food writer, I was glad that I had the pleasure to sit down with the owners to fully understand the entire thought process that goes into creating every dish on the menu.
I could feel the sheer pride the chef and owners have in crafting a taste of Vietnam in this modest eatery, and I genuinely applaud them for doing so. Hoang Hau might not be a well-known eatery, but the dishes they serve proved themselves to be statements of one.
Expected damage: S$15 – S$30 per pax
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Our Rating: 4 / 5
146 Jalan Bukit Merah, #01-1090, Singapore 160146
146 Jalan Bukit Merah, #01-1090, Singapore 160146