Rating: 6 / 10
Nine out of ten time's I would steer clear of anything mentioned in multiple guidebooks, just for the fact that I didn't come all the way to Vietnam to sit amongst fifty German, French and American tourists. However, having spent months in the city over the course of the past couple years, I felt it was time to try something different and see if it held a candle to the more humble style Vietnamese food I was used to.
After being thoroughly confused walking into a dark building and climbing floor after floor of random housing, I saw signs pointing to the rooftop. I found a waitress who smiled in a slightly sad, tired way, but nonetheless showed me to a table slap-bang facing a Russian tourist with two much younger "girlfriends" flanking his side's and obsessing about their hair. I felt the fear of "other humans" rising within. I managed to subdue the immediate longing to get up and run away, and distracted my gaze with the menu.
Starters were ordered and arrived promptly. A crispy rice-cracker base topped with ground pork, rice puffs, coriander and some dried onions and a spot of sauce. They tasted pretty decent tho the rice-cracker was rather chewy and dense. Humidity is a bitch...
My main arrived as the Russians were leaving, off to explore distinct unpleasantries in opulent hotel rooms adorned in gold trim. I had ordered the pork belly despite my fear of how many people prepare it. I am by no mean's terrified of animal fat, but there is a big difference in taste when the ratios are off. A good cut of meat, with a healthy amount of fat, properly rendered or cooked is a delight for the senses. Lamb with white raw fat, or pork belly that hasn't been trimmed enough tends to eat like a mistake you know you made the second your teeth make contact. Unfortunately for Secret Garden, their pork belly was the mistake kind. It was a 30-70 ratio of meat to fat, and the fat was wobbly and unpalatable and drew retches from my very soul. The flavours were all pretty decent and with a bit of dissecting it was good, but for my personal tastes and irritations, this was a step too far.
These recommendations are just personal opinions based on my palate, things change, chefs get fired or replaced, places open-close, relocate, so take it all with a pinch of MSG and discover your own gems too. But please do try a few of these, they have been researched exhaustively.
"Sadness is tempered by umami, grief by the motion of slurping, hope restored in the ladling of glistening, fatty broth"