We went to this restaurant because of the glowing reviews on Trip Advisor, and we were not disappointed. The restaurant was beautiful, the service attentive and cheerful, and the food was good (although not great, more on this later).
First of all, I'd like to commend this restaurant on their cause. Not many people would even think about giving back to the community while making good food and giving patrons a great dining experience. The service staff were very attentive and genuinely happy to be there, not something you see every day.
The restaurant is set on the second floor of a beautifully preserved colonial house, with charming staircase, wooden floors, and mood lighting. It was the perfect setting for a romantic dinner for two, but I was there with a bunch of noisy friends so the romance will have to wait. Other patrons were (curiously) mostly Japanese, and the manager was also Japanese. Perhaps this place is on a Japanese guidebook for Saigon or something. Maybe this explains the toned-down, clean-flavored, fresh food they serve--very reminiscent of Japanese food.
The food was not what I expected at all. All the Vietnamese food I've had so far has been a lot more liberal in their use of herbs and spices, while keeping to the freshness and lightness of the cuisine. Huong Lai's version is a lot more restrained. I could taste the herbs and spices, but they're very mild, and added just to enhance the natural, fresh flavors of the ingredients. Very much like Japanese cuisine. It's good, but when I go to a Vietnamese restaurant in Saigon, I would much prefer full-flavored food.
The most notable dish I had was the stir-fried edible flowers of some sort, they were so fresh and flavorful. We also ordered the tofu and chives soup (too bland for my palate), sweet and sour shrimps (not very Vietnamese), stewed pork belly (again, very Japanese, almost like a sweeter, thicker buta kakuni). The fresh summer rolls were very good though, probably the most Vietnamese-flavored dish on the table.
I'd recommend this restaurant for those who are still new to Vietnamese/Southeast Asian cuisine in general. It's a very good introduction to Vietnamese food.
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.