14 Chalk Farm Rd, Camden.
Phone number: 020 7267 9820
We’re always on the hunt for that elusive Vietnamese restaurant where you can proclaim to the rest of London…finally!! This is it!! My friend in the “click and drag” business (IT) found this restaurant on a google search. One restaurant reviewer claimed to have come from Vietnam and said the food was as authentic as back home. I suspect this reviewer was the restaurant owner. This will become more apparent later. To get there we had to walk the streets of Camden. A word of warning. Don’t walk there alone at night if you’re female or wearing tight pants sashaying in a provocative manner. Camden is a motley of supernatural creatures wearing all kinds of weird and wonderful garments arranged in intriguing ways. The general rule here is that hair must be dyed in blinding fluorescent colours and cut in gravity-defying ways. To blend in, all visible hanging bits must be pierced – highly essential (but be careful not to snag yourself on other peoples’ dangly bits). A rough and ready part of London…great for people watching – but not in the same way Chelsea is.
The restaurant itself is quite ordinary. Has all the basic essentials without bothering too much with the décor. Mustard yellow walls, a few pics here and there to remind patrons of the type of cuisine they’re meant to be devouring (in case they were temporarily confused, I know I was). We were quite a large group of eight and were seated in a separate section of the restaurant all to ourselves. Just as well. All of us hail from Oz (Sydney, Melbourne and Perth all represented) and were enjoying a bit of Pommie bashing (all in good humour).
We started with an assortment of drinks. Halida beer I found to be a little too flat for my liking. The Vietnamese warm sake was wonderful. Less harsh than the traditional Japanese ones. The coconut juice, even though it looked like a glass full of clear jelly with coconut bits suspended in time, was actually quite tasty.
The menu itself was comprehensive but disappointing. It looked suspiciously like a Chinese menu. It contained maybe two of our Vietnamese favourites. I was instantly wary. I cocked my “Fraud! Fraud!” antennas up….this establishment never really had a chance. We started with a platter of starters which had the usual deep-fried spring rolls, deep-fried seaweed, deep-fried wonton, deep-fried prawn toast, prawn crackers…you get the idea. The usual run of the mill, deep-fried medley didn’t rouse a wimper of excitement from me. The Goi Coun (£4.00), which are fresh cooked prawns, rice noodles and fresh herbs wrapped in rice paper was listless and bland.
My initial idea, which I reiterated to The Man constantly, was to avoid having our favourite Pho Bo and instead order a wide-range of dishes so that we could fully experience the full range of the chef's culinary talents. We both scoured the menu meticulously. There was nothing else we wanted. We would both have the Pho Bo and criticise it. If their Pho Bo was the pussy’s pyjamas – then we would crown Tranh Binh as the ruler of the Pho Bo universe. We ordered it sceptically and with trepidation. What would it be? Shame or fame?
The Pho Bo (£4.50) came in a medium sized bowl. The beef was too well-done and chewy. The soup failed to rock my world…didn’t even teeter my axis. The serving of limp bean sprouts and fresh herbs was stingy. It was one of those rare times when I didn’t want to finish the bowl. My fellow dining companions who ordered the Pho Dac Biet (£5.50) which comprised of beef balls and sliced beef noodle in soup agreed with me whole-heartedly. A culinary disaster to be reckoned with in the Hall of Shame.
The archetypal Ocker Man had the Vietnamese style chicken curry with coconut and onions (Ga Ca-Ri £4.50). When it landed, it looked a fright. He politely said it was OK, but I had a taste of it. It was a bland watery poultry tragedy. I could even discriminate the individual curry powder granules with my tongue.
There were two dishes however that did radiate brightly amongst the general feeling of discontent. The Singing One had the Bun cha ca thang long (£6.55) which roughly translates into grilled cod with dill and rice flour noodles. I didn’t taste it but it looked fantastic and was devoured with no complaints, only praise. The Other Hag had a similar dish but with prawn cakes instead (Bun cha tom). She authoritatively informed me this was quite good, but the cod dish looked much better. You have been informed.
The service was good. Nothing to complain about. The price was reasonable, we paid about £10 each (including drinks). But the food seriously lacked authenticity. We did however have a good chin-wag – topics ranging from the cunning technicalities of retrieving your goods from customs, to giving ourselves a pat on the back for being hard-working and a much valued addition to the British economy.
We left feeling dissatisfied and empty. Maybe it was a good thing. At least our senses weren’t dulled by the usual post-prandial slumber which usually accompanies a gustationary adventure. We were well equipped to dodge the drunken after-life prowling the streets of Camden. You have been warned.
(NB. As I’m looking back on this review, I’m now thinking I might have been a bit too critical. I’ve just come off a late shift and have just had a Bloody Mary on an empty stomach. This combo tickles my creative juices and I might come off a bit more feisty than originally intended. Three cheers for The Man who introduced me to the Bloody Mary…Bloody Good I say. Also a big up to The Man who gave Culinary Hags a bottle of champers after losing a bet – Moet and Chandon no less. Thanks for believing in us.)
Wanna see more restaurant reviews by us?