Spend ten minutes with my friends and I and you’ll fast learn that there are two things we like to do: make fun of each other and eat… usually at the same time. Sometimes we even making fun of the way we eat. And when we’re together we just can’t seem to stop laughing, drawing attention to ourselves, or saying the most inappropriate things in public (the last time we ate out together I somehow managed to blurt out the sentence, “next time I text you it’ll have something really exciting in it! Like willies! And knitting!”), and we all love to eat. It goes without saying then that we always have a fantastic time.
For a while now Sam had been saying that she’d heard about this awesome Vietnamese place in Shoreditch that she really wanted to try out, but for whatever reason we’d been putting it off. I was busy, she was busy, everybody else was busy; until finally Sam put her foot down, we were going and she was going to book it, full stop, no excuses. I’m not really sure why we’d put it off that long – I love Vietnamese food, specifically I love pho. I’ve waxed lyrical about the joyous wonders of pho before, but y’know something? It’s really hard to find good pho in London… and I know my pho: when I lived in Malaysia I had amazing pho. So I think the main reason why we kept delaying it is because Shoreditch is, as Brother put it earlier, the “arse-end of East London”. It’s just so damn far away from everything. Or at least far away from me, who lives and works in the arse-end of West London.
But Sam finally booked it, and so on a cold, snowy, blustery day in London I trekked across the city… to the best damn bowl of pho I’ve ever had in London. It was like coming home.
I honestly didn’t think much of Mien Tay when we rocked up to Shoreditch, cold, a little hyper (in my case) and extremely exhausted (I think Emma hadn’t slept for 48 hours at this point). It was along “pho mile” (apparently Shoreditch is a secret haven for Vietnamese food) and the outside looked, well, pretty sketchy. But I’m willing to give most things a chance, so we stumbled in out of the cold and found the place absolutely heaving. There were waiters running all over the place, coats stacked against the wall, diners with flushed, happy faces, and the air. Oh my. It smelt amazing. We were shown to our table, given our menus to peruse and a bowl of rice crackers to munch on. The menu itself is a thing of wonder. Please observe:
I mean, wow. From now on if there’s a hot Asian chick strolling through a palm tree strewn path on my menu, heck, on anything, I’m automatically assuming there is magic contained within. Thankfully, opening up the laminated and ring-bound menu I found a bevy of choice before me, all of it looking absolutely delicious. But whilst my friends pored over the menu and agonised over their choices (“Chargrilled goat? Well, that’s just chargrilled goat”) I knew that all I needed was a giant, steaming bowl of pho. Beef and brisket, to be precise.
For those of you who don’t know, pho, pronounced /fuh/, is a bowl of rice noodles in an incredibly complex broth. The broth is usually made with either a beef or chicken base, boiled for hours and hours, and has a gazillion different spices in it. It’s often served with a side dish containing chilli, beansprouts, Thai basil, lime and fish sauce (‘nam pla’) which the diner can then include in their bowl at will, creating their very own pho. The actual origins of pho are, like the broth, complicated and complex. Some say there are French influences, some that there are Chinese, but most will agree that wherever it came from it’s pretty damn tasty.
We started with drinks (I just have to say that ordering with this group of friends is hilarious – nobody ever knows what they want! Especially Emma who is super indecisive. I practically end up ordering for her every time!) – mine a Vietnamese iced coffee (a must have in any Vietnamese joint).
Then came the starters – Vietnamese spring rolls, stuffed with vermicelli noodles, minced pork and mixed vegetables, wrapped in rice paper and deep-fried. These were, possibly, the best Vietnamese spring rolls I’ve had in London. They were just so delicious – they didn’t just taste like deep-fried food, they had their own flavour, and that’s hard to do when you throw something into hot oil. They were served alongside mint, burdock leaf and a few pickled cucumber and carrot slices for you to wrap the spring rolls in if you wanted to (which Sam and I did, but didn’t tell the others, as we forgot that they didn’t know you could do that – “it’s an Asian thing”).
Everyone else’s food arrived, Sam had gone for a rice noodle and goat dish; Richelle for a rice noodle and seafood dish; Rick for a rice noodle and beef dish, Emma for the goat with lemongrass and chilli with rice (not pictured); and Naomi and I for the pho with beef and brisket (on my recommendation). And then the pho arrived.
This picture honestly does not do my pho justice. I should’ve taken a photo of it as I lifted those gloriously chewy noodles out of the absolutely mind-blowing broth and succulent pieces of meat and took my first bite. But I didn’t. Because first bite led to second bite, which led to me practically swallowing down the whole bowl, plus broth, plus garnish, plus chopsticks. It was that good. In fact, the others all had pho envy, and were dipping their spoons into my bowl to try the broth, then bemoaning their own choices (which were, in actual fact, also very, very good). Richelle was so jealous of my pho that she went home, demanded that her Vietnamese friend make her pho, and has now actually convinced her friends to have their Christmas meal at Mien Tay next week, just so that she can have a whole bowl of pho to herself. That’s dedication. That’s also pretty much how I felt after I had my first ever pho.
We wolfed down our meals, made silly jokes at each other’s expense, Sam and I tried to explain what ‘jook’ (congee) and ‘pork floss’ were to the others (it’s pretty much what it sounds like: pork candy floss. Don’t judge me, trust me – it’s amazeballs), and at one point Emma, keen to demonstrate what police dogs sound like when they detect cocaine on you (don’t ask), started barking in my ear. I was laughing so hard my sides hurt; I’m pretty sure Rick, the only male at the table, was desperately looking for a way out/to seem as if he wasn’t with us, but that was hard since he was trapped in the corner… and is married to Sam.
Service was fast, the waiters and waitresses, whilst not exactly ‘friendly’ were more than polite and efficient, and the food was simply wonderful. But do you know what the best thing about all of this was? Not just the food, not just the company, but the fact that the final bill came to £10/head (not including alcohol). That is ridiculously good value, because our bowls were huge. We could barely finish it all (well, not me, but I think you may have already gathered that…)!
When we finally left the restaurant it was snowing again outside, which touched even the heart of a scrooge like me. Maybe it was because I’d laughed myself silly, maybe it was because I was a little giddy with social interaction (it can get a little lonely working all by myself across town), but I think it was mostly down to that big ol’ bowl of pho. A good pho can do wonders for the soul.
122 Kingsland Road
London E2 8DP
0207 729 3074
Mon-Sat: 12-3pm; 5-11pm
This would’ve been my 9th entry for Project Food Blog. The other eleven eliminated contestants and I decided to post our reviews or retrospectives, please do check them out! They’re a fantastic bunch of food bloggers whom I’m proud to be a part of.
Eat, Live, Run
Good Food, Good Wine, and a Bad Girl
Korean American Mommy
Le Grand Fromage
Spicy Green Mango
The Front Burner
You Fed a Baby Chili?
Z Tasty Life
Until next time, peace and love.