I have been to “House Special”, the modern Vietnamese restaurant in Yaletown, a handful of times now; and they have yet to disappoint. So if you are like me, a fan, they now have weekend brunch; giving you yet another reason to come back to them.
Truth be told, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as Vietnamese breakfast, and walking up to their patio, was wondering how they would interpret their fusion cuisine to the ever popular concept brunch. More and more places are now offering this early social affair, so they made sure to have theirs a standing out.
Today’s visit was a media event hosted by “Pekopekolife”, in celebration of this new offering, starting June 3rd, 2017. I would be one of five other bloggers and social media influencers invited to have a sneak peak. And as always, when it comes to a media tasting: plating and portion size may be gussied up and/or paired down, and the service will usually be top notch. Though I can at least paint you the most accurate image when it comes to the food and the setting, as how I interpret it. But as always, these are my opinions and you need not take them as fact. Unless you have my exact background, have lived my exact experiences, and we possess the same tongue; no one can truly taste and appreciate as you do.
The restaurant is run by a sister and brother team, the former running the front of house experience, including hosting this brunch; and her brother is in charge of back of house, design, and menu creation. And I must say, they know what they are doing. Especially considering their longevity, and the number of restaurants that held the space before them.
As a whole, many of the dishes we had reminded me of dim sum, but with a Vietnamese twist. Traditional small plates and various dumplings, served with plenty of pickled vegetable and fish sauce. Today’s tasting ended up feeling very similar from dish to dish, but they promised an ever evolving menu with updates and changes every 2-3 weeks.
They even went so far as to consider and create the perfect caffeinated beverages and citrus cocktails to pair with this new brunch menu. North American classics redone with exotic ingredient substitutions and ethnic retellings.
The work included freshly squeezed juices for their French citrus soda with fresh lemon juice and the “Guava and Calamansi mimosa”. The latter was a nice play on this classic breakfast bubbly, made tropical with the fruit used. Definitely original to them.
The “Kaffir lime Collins”, with gin, kaffir leaves, citrus, and soda; gave this classic a more spicy flavour, complimentary to the fresh and raw herbs common to Vietnamese cuisine.
And they even sourced the perfect citrus beer for those who like a brew over a mixed drink over ice. This is the “Beau’s Tyrannosaurus Gruit Beer”. Hailed the perfect brunch beer. A red grapefruit ale brewed with organic beets, juniper berries, hibiscus flowers, and white spruce tips. A really interesting flavour, where there is no missing the use of beets, in colour and distinct flavouring.
They also teamed up with local Burnaby coffee purveyors “Pistol and Burnes” to bag and offer their own line of dark roast “House Special” coffee. Because what is brekkie without some wake-me-up-juice. Whole beans ground up and prepared Vietnamese slow-drip style. Steeped in a metal strainer, stirred together with condense milk, then poured over ice. It was a strong roast to compete with the use of the strong condense milk. It was very comparable to traditional Vietnamese coffee. Thanks to “Pistol and Burnes” spending the time to source the right beans, in order to minimize the amount of bitterness of a categorized dark roast.
Now on to the food. The “Sunday dumplings” are house made roll dumplings filled with ground pork, shrimp, and jicama. Served with Vietnamese herbs, coconut milk and nuoc cham. With only two per order, this is definitely a brunch-time appetizer. There is no hiding how fresh everything about this is, the flavours were sharp and memorable. My favourite part was their use of coconut cream as a dip, giving the dumplings some refreshing sweetness.
The “Glass dumplings” were named after their appearance. Steamed tapioca dumplings with a translucent coating surrounding pork, shrimp, and water chestnut. I enjoyed this (and pretty much all the other dishes) for its (their) starchy carb-y chew. The jelly-like starch is a nice parallel to the dried bits of meat and seafood hiding within.
Although the “glass dumplings” and the “Flat Steamed Dumplings” looked alike, given both their use of banana leaf to wrap and steam. And they tasted alike, as they were both filled with shrimp and pork. Although this one was more like a Chinese rice roll.
The “XOXO Rice Cakes” were perfectly steamed rice flour and coconut milk blocks; topped with shrimp, pork, jicama, and XO sauce. They ate like starchy gelatine, with crunch from the toppings, and the preserved shrimp as the stand out flavour.
I found the “Saigon Rice Cakes” really unique. It made an omelette out of pan-fried, soya marinated, radish and green onion rice cakes. By wrapping them like a parcel and serving it with a refreshing papaya salad and a sweet soy drizzle. You couldn’t think of bringing them together, but they work; and the textures, although similar, compliment.
The pan fried “Chive dumplings” are all chives and a little pork. You must like the herb, as it’s fairly pronounced. I however, do not, but found this had a nice spicy finish to it, with an enjoyable crispy shell.
The “Steamed Sticky Rice” was prepared in a banana leaf with sausage, ham, and shredded chicken. It was very comparable to the bundles of sticky rice at Chinese dim sum. Whereas the rice here was unseasoned, and the use of herbs within left raw.
And another rice four dish was the “Banh Beo”. They were nice, but as I mentioned earlier, they were all starting to taste the same. I couldn’t tell notes apart. Steamed rice flour cakes with shrimp and pork, steamed directly in small sauce dishes. Chewy base, saucy meat, and fragrant spices.
And what is also offered during their new brunch, that would have given us more diversity in our meal, is their take one ham and eggs, and their spin on congee (popular amongst Chinese breakfast enthusiasts). “Ham + Eggs Saigon”. Marinated pork, Vietnamese ham, two fried eggs, tofu, pickled vegetable, and a baguette; served on a sizzling plate. And their “Black and white XO congee”. White and black rice congee with house made Chinese doughnut, scallop XO, and boudin noir.
We were also treated to dessert, another brunch time first with/for them. This is their house made “pandan ice cream”, with a very pronounced pandan flavour. A little too sweet for my liking, but manageable in this smaller, one scoop amount. I also liked their effort to decorate the plate. Crumble for crunch, fruit for freshness, and a block of jelly for enjoyable of chew.
We were also given a taste of their “Smoked plum ice cream”, but this came with a warning. The flavour was saltier then sweet. Like a granita, more icy than creamy. The smokey, salty flavour isn’t for everyone. I didn’t prefer it, but thought it better suited as an accompaniment and side to a cocktail.
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
As one of my go-to’s for good food and pretty plates, I will no doubt be back and continue to recommend them to others. And once again, with their official launch of brunch on June 3rd, 2017 and their longer hours of operation; you can now dine with them for every meal of the day! Don’t deny your cravings.
1269 Hamilton Street, Vancouver BC, V6B 6K3