A cultural culinary journey: La Residence’s colonial dinner

Hue is renowned for its culinary traditions – particularly the aptly named ‘Imperial Cuisine’ which epitomizes the fanciful tastes of emperor Tu Duc – a king who demanded that his food was as artistically presented as it was flavoursome. Legend has it that he had 50 chefs under his employ who would each create one dish per royal banquet. In a sense you could say he gave birth to the movement of ‘food art’ in Vietnam. One could also say he was a tad excessive. Either way, when staying in the former residence of the French Governor, a dinner that captures the essence of Vietnam’s fine ingredients yet is prepared with French flair and technique, seems just as an appropriate cultural experience as ordering a dish that resembles a phoenix, dragon or some other regally mythical animal. And the six-course Governor’s Colonial Dinner at La Residence is nothing less than an extravagant gastronomic affair that is fit for either king or governor. I’d highly recommend it during your stay.

The menu is created fresh each time – depending on guest preferences and market availability – and so while I can only comment on my personal experience, I can say this for sure, eat lightly during the day. In fact, I’d skip lunch altogether in anticipation of the feast that awaits you. After an aperitif cocktail in the lounge, I was escorted with two fellow diners to the poolside where a beautiful candle-lit table had been arranged. With the ambient light of the pool gently revealing the surrounding gardens and the scent of frangipani in the air, the stage was certainly set for a remarkable culinary experience.

The first dish to whet our appetites was an amuse bouche of scrambled egg with black truffle – a subtle and delectable beginning that I enjoyed immensely. The chef must’ve known instinctively that I have a penchant for truffles with the simplest of ingredients (such as scrambled eggs or pasta with olive oil). This was promptly followed by an appetizer of orange-marinated prawns served with a shredded green papaya salad – a magical menagerie of flavours that went down like a dream. And yet still this dish was bested by a main (one of two mains) of fresh mahi-mahi fish on a vegetable confit (basically a mash of sweet potato, normal potato and other vegetables) with local herbs in a citrus sabayon (sabayon is a posh word for sauce). This was the highlight of my dinner – I’ve eaten mahi-mahi before (mahi-mahi is the Hawaiian name but is also known commonly as Dolphinfish or Dorado), it is a mild tasting fish that is slightly similar to swordfish in texture, and I’ve always enjoyed it. However, I don’t know what the chef did with this particular mahi-mahi fillet but I went gastro-travelling (imagine astro-travelling but instead of just a mind out of body experience, this was both a stomach and mind out of body experience – absolutely celestial).

While those three courses would've sufficed even the most discriminating of gourmets, we still had another trio to sample. Fortunately we had a small break to digest the first portion of the dinner and then came along an interesting cleanser – young rice wine ice cream. Not as creamy as a Western ice cream this served as a nice interlude and alternative to the traditional Western sorbet palate-cleanser that would come before a main. The second main dish comprised of roasted chicken on a bed of lotus rice and served with sautéed vegetables. Again, it was superb but I'm not sure how to describe feelings that go beyond 'heavenly' and 'divine'. We finalized the dinner with a Vietnamese take on a fruit gratin with mango sorbet and a dessert wine, whilst soaking in all the flavours and the special atmosphere around us. The river lapping at the shore, frogs gently croaking, insects lulling us into a tropical torpor. It's generally understood that an experience is truly amazing when there are virtually no words to describe it. And that's exactly what it was like at the conclusion of our dinner – we sat, smiling broadly, in a deep satisfied silence.

You can ask the front desk about the Colonial Dinner - it can be tailored to meet each person's preferences or for special occasions. It is a special occasion on its own.  

Amy Morison