19 Joel Street • Northwood Hills • HA6 1NU • 01923 903127
Review by Alan Cox
Vietnamese cuisine, so I’m told, is all about the perfect balance of aromatics, heat, sweetness, sourness, and definitely fish-sauciness. The partnering of opposites (salty with sweet, fermented with fresh) features prominently – it’s all about managing the yin and the yang.
The picture-led menu at this family run eatery certainly seems to confirm this. And if the food tastes as good as it looks in the pictures, then we’re in for a mouthwatering evening.
The plain, canteen-style interior is clean, bright and bravely austere. There’s little to transport you to the orient, save a pair of chopsticks on a paper napkin at each place setting. The look is rather uninspired, so this still relatively new restaurant really needs to really impress in the food stakes.
Summer Rolls with Duck, Vietnamese Pork Sausage and Crispy Spring Rolls filled with Pork and Shrimp are our choice of starters. Food here, we discover, arrives when it’s ready. First out of the kitchen are the Spring Rolls, which are delightful. Piping hot, with a generous filling and a golden crunchy exterior, these burst with deliciousness. The little dish of fish sauce to dip these into adds an extra depth to the fragrant taste.
Next to reach the table are what look like slices of meat loaf. ‘That’s the sausage,’ I’m informed. It must be the oddest-looking sausage I’ve ever seen, but it tastes great: flavourful, warm and aromatic. In complete contrast (cue yin and yang), are the chilled Summer Rolls. With duck, cucumber, mint, coriander and lettuce neatly wrapped in the most delicate of rice paper (plus another dish of fish sauce to dip), these have a delightfully fresh and clean taste. Very moreish.
Service is a little underwhelming. Food arrives… dishes are cleared but, in this instance, not plates. Here you keep your plate, complete with any remains from your starter. I know this is casual, relaxed dining, but is it really too much to expect a clean plate and a fresh pair of chopsticks for the next course?
Hissing all the way from the kitchen to the table comes the first of our main dishes – Sizzling Seafood (Prawns and Squid with Onions, Peppers and Mixed Vegetables). There are generous slices of fleshy squid and juicy prawns in this eye-catching dish, which all three of us enthusiastically tuck into. Shame the egg fried rice is a little slow in emerging: we need it to absorb the lovely juices.
Next up, and served in a big bowl with Vermicelli noodles and bean sprouts, is Lemongrass Chicken. This is a really fresh tasting and light combination of ingredients, with just the right amount of lemongrass adding a little spice to the proceedings. Then there is Aubergine with Betel leaves and Prawns, a really excellent partnering, plus Slow Cooked Pork which impresses us less. This traditional dish doesn’t appear in a clay pot (as described) and although it has a fantastic flavoursome sauce, some of cubes of pork are a little chewier than is pleasant.
We finish by sharing a couple of portions of toffee apple fritters and ice cream. Freshly prepared, these golden stalwarts of oriental cuisine have a light honey coating, which lacks a little of the expected crunch, but is tasty nevertheless.
If you’re one of those who are still continuing with ‘dry January’ then the lack of an alcohol licence here won’t prove an issue. But, if you’re not, you can always take your own wine along to this simple and very casual establishment, and enjoy some freshly prepared and gloriously authentic Vietnamese street food.
Price Guide: STARTERS: £5-£11 • MAINS: £8.50-£15