The structure of ultrathin NaCl films on Au(1 1 1) and on Au(11 12 12), as well as the one of bimolecular 3,4,9,10-perylenetetracarboxylic diimide (PTCDI) and 1,4-bis-(2,4-diamino-1,3,5,-triazine)-benzene (BDATB) islands on NaCl films on both surfaces have been studied with a low-temperature scanning tunnelling microscope. We show that intermixed bimolecular assemblies based on selective three-fold hydrogen-bonding (H-bonding), that have previously been observed on Au(1 1 1) and on Au(11 12 12), can also be stabilized on insulating NaCl films on Au, however, only if these films are grown on Au(11 12 12) and not on Au(1 1 1). The behaviour of the heterocomplex structures is found to be largely influenced by the structural properties of the underlying substrate and by the number of NaCl layers. On a partly NaCl-covered Au(1 1 1) surface, the excess of molecules after completion of the first layer on Au prefers to form a second molecular layer based on ordered heterocomplex structures rather than to adsorb on the NaCl islands. The use of a vicinal surface together with the strong cohesion characteristic of the NaCl film introduces smooth elastic deformations on the NaCl(0 0 1) plane. As a consequence, the periodically modified structure of the overlayer provides preferential binding sites and allows adsorption of two-dimensional molecular structures. In contrast to what is observed on Au(11 12 12), the molecular domains on the NaCl film do not follow the Au step directions, but the NaCl(0 0 1) high symmetry directions. Our results provide a strategy to increase the adsorption energy of flat molecules on insulating layers by choosing a vicinal metal substrate. © 2009 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.