Date visited: 2 February 2011
I am often surprised when I hear Londoners say that they have never visited a Vietnamese restaurant or eaten Vietnamese cuisine. With the clutch of Vietnamese restaurants in the ever-popular surrounds of Old Street and Shoreditch and peppered throughout the sprawling city, I would have imagined that Vietnamese should have become as integral to eating out in London as Indian has.
If you can count yourself among what I could only imagine to be the minority, you should do yourself the favour and treat yourself to Vietnamese. It could only be described as a mind-altering, life-changing, gastronomical lesson. Vietnamese is a comfort food minus the calories and guilt which are traditionally associated with comfort food. It is nigh on impossible to imagine such a likelihood, but when served a beautifully prepared phở (rice noodle soup) in all its steamy, fresh vege goodness, it would be difficult to disagree. In practice, eating Vietnamese should equate to detoxing while treating yourself.
Clearly I love Vietnamese. And so it is with a twinge I have to report my slight disappointment in our chosen restaurant for Vietnamese in London. We went to the massively popular and highly recommended Mien Tay in Battersea, a short walk from Clapham Junction Station. The queue that spilled onto the pavement and kept topping itself up, was a clear indication of Mien Tay’s popularity. But unfortunately I didn’t find the food to be as fresh as my imagination was drooling over. Most disappointing of all Clinton ordered his first-ever phở and he didn’t enjoy it.
We started with cha gio Mien Tay or Mien Tay spring rolls and a banh xeo tom thit, which is a traditional crispy pancake with pork, prawn and beansprouts. I really enjoyed this dish, and the stuffing alluded to the freshness which I have been talking about. For my main I was a bit daring and ordered the ca bong lau kho to or stewed Vietnamese catfish. Initially I was bit dubious when I looked at my dish. I’m not an experimental fish eater at the best of times, but when fish bones are involved I tend to turn a bit queasy. Anyway, after a poor first attempt I got the hang of it. It’s probably more of a hat’s off to the cook than credit to my fish-eating skills, but the flesh fell away from the bone.
Verdict: While we weren’t entirely thrilled with our meal, Mien Tay is a favourite with locals. Booking is a must and it is in an ideal location for a quick meal before heading to one of the many local watering holes.