Great Vietnamese regional cooking – Pho for those in the know:
Hands up who’s been to a Chinese restaurant? Everyone – unless you’ve just arrived in London from another planet. The same is probably true for Thai and Japanese restaurants which are now on almost every local high street. On the other hand, Vietnamese places like the excellent Mien Tay are still a fairly rare sight.
In recent years, however, they have been slowly becoming more visible – and now they even have their own named cluster, the Pho Mile, a spread of a dozen or so Vietnamese eateries in hipster Shoreditch. But then Shoreditch is a part of London where you’ll find every kind of World cuisine – even Burmese at Lahpet for instance.
Mien Tay is on that restaurant strip but also has other branches around London, in Fulham, Wood Green and Battersea with each one run by a family member. The Mien Tay name comes from the family’s home region around the lush and fertile Mekong Delta and its cuisine, therefore, contains a wide variety of meat, fish, herbs and vegetables combined in lots of lovely ways.
Five minutes’ walk up from Clapham Junction station Mien Tay’s Battersea outpost is a bright, no fuss place, where the welcome is a warm and friendly one. The tables are fun – each containing a mini-tableau of a Vietnamese village scene covered by a glass top.
Mien Tay’s drinks list has been thoughtfully put together to complement the wide range of food and flavours and has recommendations for what European or New World white, red or rose wine (very reasonably priced) goes with what dish. Wanting to be as authentic as possible, we went for the imported (very drinkable) Saigon beer instead.
The food arrives pretty fast so it’s an idea to order starters, eat them, and then order again as you go. To begin, we decided on the spring rolls – these were tastily stuffed with a minced up mixture of chicken and prawns in a roughly textured and crunchy coating served with a sweet chilli dip.
One of Mien Tay’s most popular dishes is the chargrilled quail with honey, garlic and spices and it wasn’t hard to see why. The honey gave the quail a barbecue taste which was rather good in itself but the dip (made with salt, pepper, lime juice and a little wasabi) added a special extra dimension. Eaten with fingers, it was a greasy-chinned treat.
Having never tried catfish, let alone one from the Mekong Delta, next up we had to go for the stewed Mekong catfish. The meat was nicely fatty and firm, not unlike salmon we thought, served with plain rice and a deeply flavoured fish and dark soy sauce. Really tasty.
As the restaurant has been highly praised (by A A Gill no less) for its Pho (pronounced ‘fuh’), Vietnam’s national dish, we had to have it and chose the Pho Tai Nạm. In the bowl was beef broth, sliced beef brisket, noodles (which seemed to be two feet long) and coriander, to which we added bean sprouts, lime and some fabulous Thai basil with its strong aniseed taste. Very tasty. (But maybe not something to choose for a first date – it’s quite a splashy dish. Tip: wear old clothes or a bib…)
Desserts were mainly ice cream so we tried the Vietnamese taro ball (a root vegetable cooked to a gnocchi-like texture) in coconut milk with coconut slices, served hot.
What we had to eat can only give you a glimpse of the range of dishes on offer at Mien Tay. You could probably go for lunch and dinner for a month and still find something different to try. It would all be really flavoursome – and you’d probably be healthier at the end of it.
Although it has common elements with Chinese, Vietnamese food is absolutely distinct, based on a mix of sweet and sour, salt and hot flavours from cane sugar, citrus juice, fish sauce and chillis. Add that and more to frog’s legs, goat or seabass, let alone chicken, prawn or pork, and it’s no surprise Mien Tay is so popular – even on cold, wet Tuesday nights.
‘’Mien Tay may well be the best Vietnamese restaurant in London” said A A Gill. He would certainly know and who am I to disagree?
180 Lavender Hill
Tel: 020 7350 0721
Opening Times: Monday-Thursday 12.00pm to 3.00pm then 5.00pm to last orders 11.00pm
Friday-Saturday 12.00pm to last orders 11.00pm
Sunday 12.00pm to last orders 10.00pm