Madam Kieu Restaurant Hoi An
On the corner of the busiest street on An Hoi Islet, next to the night market and across the river from the Japanese Bridge, lies a culinary gem. Taking a pew on the balcony of Madam Kieu Restaurant, overlooking the Thu Bon River at sunset, is quite possibly the most coveted seat in all of the Old Town in Hoi An.
Opening its doors to the public in 2015, this Hoi An eatery was shaken up almost immediately, after a difficult restoration period following severe flooding. Many would have been defeated by such a disaster – but not Miss Kieu. As ambitious as she is committed, this fearless business owner knows just how to make the best of a bad situation. It is this resolute determination that allowed Miss Kieu to begin building a small empire in the heart of Hoi An’s Old Town.
Driven by a dream to bring home cooking to the fine dining crowds, she was inspired by the matriarch of her family. Therefore the restaurant focuses on the notion of sharing Madam Kieu’s soul food with the people of Hoi An. Hidden sat down with the entrepreneurial force behind this contemporary Vietnamese restaurant which is taking the Old Town by storm.
A Seat at the Table
Packed with bars, restaurants, food stalls and the entrance to the popular night market, Nguyễn Phúc Chu easily receives the most foot traffic on any given evening in the Old Town. It is the perfect location in Hoi An for Madam Kieu Restaurant. The fun, friendly and inviting establishment initially spawning from Miss Kieu’s desire to recreate her family’s cooking when she was missing the nest. She now considers the restaurant “home sweet home for everyone, not only for me.”
Madam Kieu Restaurant, with its wraparound balconies at both ground and first floor level, has an ideal vantage point. There’s a panoramic view of the river and neighbouring night market. Hidden highly recommends arriving for dinner in time to watch the sunset. So pull up a chair and bask in the glow of the retreating sun, as it descends over a river filled with lantern lit rowboats. Your place at the table doubles as a front row seat to the intoxicating sights and sounds of the Old Town spectacle.
Madam Kieu Restaurant From Cam Ranh to Hoi An
The modest Miss Kieu refuses to dwell on the bad stuff. Instead, she is determined to see everything as a learning curve. A talented fashion designer and successful business owner, everything is seen as an opportunity to develop as a businesswoman. A kind and welcoming spirit, Miss Kieu’s resilience is evident in all her stories. It isn’t hard to piece together why she has been able to create such a fantastic community here in Hoi An.
As a child growing up in the countryside of Cam Ranh Bay in Southern Vietnam, Miss Kieu was faced with life-threatening cancer. She speaks openly about her life during this time. It is clear this early experience of facing her own mortality has shaped the open-minded and determined individual she is today. Eventually overcoming cancer, Miss Kieu grew up dreaming of helping others who found themselves in similar situations to hers. “When you dream for all your life to help people, to be able to make money and finally make those dreams a reality, is the best feeling,” she tells Hidden.
The entrepreneur has always harboured hopes of giving back to the community she came from. It is clear she is constantly motivated by the bigger picture. “As we sit here, I still have big dreams,” she tells Hidden excitedly. “I have worked 18 to 20 hours a day, for 15 years now, and since opening the restaurant, I have learnt how to get better every day.”
The Hoi An Foodie Scene
It was Miss Kieu’s giving nature which coincidentally brought her to Hoi An in her teens. She was part of a volunteering trip, helping teach children from local fishing villages to read and write. When she eventually returned as an adult in 2015, she became inspired by the world class cuisine and Hoi An’s foodie reputation. Knowing she wanted to open a restaurant and exactly what the theme would be, Miss Kieu immediately went about putting her plan into action.
In light of the competitive nature of the hospitality industry, especially in a popular tourist town like Hoi An, Miss Kieu acknowledges the challenges she faced upon her arrival. She explains how she was eager to learn. “The food and beverage industry is very hard work, but I love to cook,” she explains. “So I came here because, although I am Vietnamese, I wanted to learn more about our country and our cuisine. The Hoi An food culture is very strong.”
Asked why she thinks Hoi An is seen as such a foodie destination, Miss Kieu responded: “In Central Vietnam more care is taken and more time is put into the food. Here, we are in the countryside. So we have more time and can access more ingredients, to perfect our food. In the cities it’s all about convenience. But here, there is no large supermarket. You get everything fresh from your garden and everything is fresh that day. Everyday you cook again from scratch, making the flavours in Hoi An so very special.”
The ceremonious nature of sitting down as a family and eating together, is quintessentially Vietnamese. This tradition is instilled into the bones of the restaurant. Miss Kieu fondly remembers dinner time in the Kieu household. “Vietnamese tradition is to wait for mum to start, parents must always eat first. It is a sign of respect. It is in our blood to always want the best for our family. We don’t do things for ourselves. We do it for our mother, our father, our brother, our sister.” This sense of family is extended to all dining guests. It is felt as soon as you cross the lantern-lit threshold of Madam Kieu Restaurant.
Miss Kieu recalls her family favourites as hearty and full of flavour. “In our house, chicken curry was my favourite and my family used sweet potato,” she remarks. “It is little things like this that I miss, because I quickly noticed most restaurants only use potato. But sweet potato is what I was used to.” Details like this evolved during the creation of the menu for the restaurant. “Sometimes I still just cook up a sweet potato, because that smell, it makes me think I am home.”
Keen to evoke all the authentic flavours of family mealtimes, Miss Kieu hand wrote the menu herself. Thus again keeping loyal to her mum’s style of cooking. By applying the special touch of the original Madam Kieu, and putting a twist on the traditional flavours of local classics like chicken curry and Hoi An BBQ pork, the restaurant has perfected the art of fine dining, done differently.
The Madam Kieu Restaurant Menu
Many items on the menu are typical staples of the street food available at the markets here. One of the most popular dishes, the Hoi An BBQ pork, has been recreated with a homemade sauce inspired by her mum.
Born from Miss Kieu’s love of seafood, having grown up among the fishing farms of Cam Ranh Bay. There are plenty of seafood options on the menu. Her favourite is the Tôm Hấp Nước Dừa (Steamed Shrimps in Coconut Water) 0.5kg 450,000VND (19.50 USD) or 1kg 750,000VND (32.60 USD). A fusion of southern Vietnamese cooking and Hoi An produce, resulting in a delicious medley of flavours.
While wanting to put her own take on some dishes, Miss Kieu has taken special measures to ensure the preservation of local classics. For example the white rose dumplings with pork and shrimp; a Hoi An legacy. The restaurant sources these from the local-living original White Rose family. These banh bao bánh vạc are served on banana leaves in a bamboo basket, in true Vietanmese style – for all to share.
Surprisingly he leather-bound drinks menu has nearly as many pages as the food menu! This is due to the fact that exactly the same level of care has been taken with every menu item. From the first thing you eat, to the drink you wash it down with. Aiming to offer the kind of open-armed welcoming you’d get in your own family home. But, with more exotic cocktails courtesy of the talented bartenders.
The message here clearly is – “you are taken care of.” From classic beach favourites to Madam Kieu’s signature cocktails, like the mango-infused Hoi An Sling. The list of beverages is every bit as exciting as the food. There’s a substantial selection of wine, whiskey and other delicacies from around the world. There’s plenty to choose from, should you feel like a little aperitif or an after-dinner night cap.
Dining at Madam Kieu Restaurant
Hidden’s experience at Madam Kieu Restaurant really did feel like an evening spent with old friends and family. Miss Kieu has succeeded in creating a cosy spot, warmly welcoming guests to share food around the table. Having started off with just four staff, the team has now grown to 137 members. This large team employed at the restaurant do a fantastic job of producing delicious food. In addition to attentive table service and wonderful conversation, seven days a week.
Hidden’s Dinner Experience
First up for dinner were the legendary hoa hồng trắng (white rose dumplings with pork and prawn) 100,000 VND (4.35 USD) and tôm rang muối (salted prawns) 250,000 VND (10.90 USD). We enjoyed these along with two excellent cocktails and a side of live music. The entertainment beautifully performed by one of the many local musicians showcasing their talents. The restaurant employs them for performances on a nightly basis.
The main dishes were shared, as is Madam Kieu etiquette. A bowl of steaming cari gà Hội An (chicken curry) 160,000VND (6.90 USD), served with a crusty banh mi roll. The fragrant lemongrass and succulent chicken were in perfect harmony. The curry was incredibly moreish, until there was no more!
We simultaneously devoured the bò cuộn sả (beef skewer dish) 250,000 VND (10.90 USD). A fantastic exercise in testing your skills as a Vietnamese chef. The market-fresh salad leaves and herbs and juicy beef skewers are all deconstructed. So it’s up to you to pick your chosen ingredients and then wrap your own fresh rolls in rice paper. This dish is both filling and nutritious, just like our rice paper rolls, we were well and truly full!
The final course was a plate of fresh local fruit and two espresso martinis. A welcome alcoholic alternative to the infamous Vietnamese iced coffee.
Dining at Madam Kieu Restaurant was a wonderful experience for the Hidden team. The service is of a fine dining standard, the staff are friendly and the atmosphere is lively and exciting. As a result, the heart and soul of home cooked meals permeates through each dish. While the presentation of every cocktail and plate of food has a stylish, contemporary spin.
The combination of beautiful food steeped in family history, along with a world-renowned location, makes for a match made in heaven. Therefore Hidden feels that dining at Madam Kieu Restaurant is a must-do when visiting Hoi An.