Thursday, 8 October 2009

Mien Tay, Lavender Hill

You would be forgiven for assuming that out of the huge amount of restaurants on Lavender Hill, at least a handful would be any good. On the short walk from Clapham Junction up to the police station on the corner of Latchmere Road and down again to the intersection with Wandsworth Road you pass a good twenty or so actual sit-down restaurants - I'm not even including the takeaway joints or kebab shops. In the five or six years I've been living in the area, I think I've been to most of them at least once or twice, endlessly, foolishly optimistic that the next may serve a meal even worth paying for, never mind returning to. There's a mind-numbingly dull, sub-Wagamamas sushi joint, a dreadful overpriced "gastropub", two equally awful Thai restaurants, a terrible fish and chip shop, a handful of middle-of-the-road Indians that could have been transplanted from any suburban high street in the country, and even a Nepalese which I'm yet to visit but which in its previous incarnation as a French restaurant once made me wait an hour for my starter and I left without leaving a tip. There's Donna Margherita of course, which is pretty consistent, and I'll admit I've never stepped inside Nancy Lam's Enak Enak, put off largely by the garish twenty-foot-high personality-cult portrait of a grinning Nancy on the side of the building. But really, more is less in this part of the city.

So you'll forgive me for getting ludicrously excited about the arrival of Mien Tay, a proper Vietnamese restaurant which has been wowing the crowds in trendy Shoreditch for a year or two now and which has chosen this cursed stretch of road, amongst the estate agents and two-for-one cocktail bars, for its second branch. Still in soft-opening phase until tomorrow (9th October), the meal we had was discounted by 10% and you can't yet pay by credit card (necessitating a hasty jog down the hill in the rain to the cash point), but judging purely by the standard of the food served, Mien Tay stands head, shoulder and toes over the rest of the dross in the area.

First of the small dishes to arrive was a heavenly honey-glazed quail, rich in sweet spicing and heady notes of garlic and fresh herbs. Perfectly charred and deeply marinated, it was a joy to pull apart and suck at the little limbs with their crispy coating. And it was as pretty as a picture to look at too - even the garnish showing attention to detail, some pickled carrots being sweet and sour in just the right balance.

Tamarind prawns were perfectly juicy and for £6 there were plenty of nice fat crustaceans here, doused in the tangy tamarind sauce. If I was going to be picky, I am still a bit squeamish about these gloopy sauces thickened with (I assume) cornflour, but this is probably just a personal thing. I still ate them all.

Spring rolls were as good as I've had almost anywhere - just crunchy enough, deftly and greaselessly fried, and containing superbly fresh vegetables. And the minced beef parcels in betel leaves were gorgeous, the thin fried leaves breaking to reveal moist and richly beefy mince. Both dishes were again very attractively presented with huge bunches of fresh herbs and mint.

This Bánh xèo crispy pancake was somewhat of a gamble. One of my dining companions last night had recently been in Vietnam, and her favourite dish she ate all trip was a Bánh xèo somewhere in the south, which she spent the rest of the journey trying and failing to match. The unwritten rule is do not try and recreate your favourite holiday dishes at home, as they will invariably be a disappointment. But the example here was declared "not quite as good as the best, but better than all the others". High praise indeed.

The best, however, was yet to come. A rather straightforwardly presented plate of thin fried lamb and onions was so brilliantly spiced and deeply-flavoured it almost ranked up there with any of Tayyabs' best offerings. It seems odd to compare the light, fresh notes of Vietnamese cooking with the dense and meaty Pakistani grill house, but the parallels here were obvious - cheapish meat, albeit cooked intelligently, with such a brilliant command of spicing that the dish is lifted into another stratosphere.

The bill, a paltry £42 which included a bottle of white wine, came with a final unexpected flourish - a segmented half orange. The love, the care and the passion is in the detail, and Mien Tay has enough to satisfy the most jaded Battersea resident. Anywhere else in London Mien Tay would be welcomed with open arms and would deserve to do very well. By the standards of Lavender Hill, it's as if the culinary gods themselves have shined a light from the heavens and blessed SW11 with the restaurant of their dreams. On a damp Wednesday night, with little to no publicity (it has apparently already been open three weeks and yet most of the foodie publications on Twitter were oblivious), it was full by the time we left at 8pm. It won't be long before they'll be queuing out of the door.


Mien Tay on Urbanspoon


Mr Noodles said...

The quail looks good. Great news for sarf London - here's hoping a second Pho Mile develops in Battersea!

kookiegoddess said...

Chris, you are restoring my faith in humanity! A good review of a vietnamese restaurant in south london, on Lavender Hill no less! Very exciting, I will be dragging my vietnamese friend along there very soon. Woo hoo!

MoChi said...

I spent nearly 5 years living right around the corner (on Elspeth Rd) and couldn't believe how poor the choices were along Lavender Hill - and nothing ever survived more than a year except Wimpy & KFC. This looks really tasty...unfortunately I live 4000 miles away now!

chefstales said...

Dear Chris,

You truly have a great blog!!

Please visit my blog and see if it is something that you would be willing to be linked too.

I was born in Harrogate and am currently working in Penang, Malaysia.

I will of course reciprocate.

Warm regards,


Ollie said...

You're been on a roll recently!

Glad you've got a great local place. Worth their weight in gold.

Krista from said...

Hi Chris,

re your publicity comment.

I am helping them out with press and we are waiting for two things before we let the world know about it's opening.

Firstly finishing off a brand new website, and secondly a wine pairing menu to compliment the food.

This should all be done and dusted by next week. I'll drop you a line and you would be very welcome to come along and test the pairings.

Kind regards

Falaise said...

We were the only people eating here at just after 8 on Tuesday evening. The food was great, green papaya salad with tofu, fresh spring rolls, pork with honey and spices, char-grilled goat and char-grilled spicy chicken. At the moment they don't have a wine list but we picked up a good bottle from the excellent Eagle Wines across the road. This kept the bill down even more. The service was friendly. Can't recommend it highly enough in an otherwise barren culinary landscape.

kookiegoddess said...

I went with a vietnamese friend yesterday and we loved it. Thanks so much for telling us about this restaurant! No more treks to Kingsland Road!

Gastro1 said...

Wow this is good news indeed must go pronto.

There was a decent Indian on this stretch a while back a branch Café Spice Namasté (Cyrus Todiwala ) but since it closed you are right no temptations !

Krista from said...

Hello - just to update those with interest in the new wine list Mien Tay wish to introduce.

It is going to be a couple of months until this is seen in the restaurant as the list is yet to be agreed and sourced.

I am hoping to see it installed by January.

In the mean time enjoy the delicious food!

LittleDrinker said...

four of us went on Friday night - £42 in total including corkage. AND IT WAS ABSOLUTELY AMAZING. Easily the best food I've eaten in Clapham North, South, Common or Junction. Go there now.

Steven Vu said...

Hi Mr. Cheese,

I stole a picture from your site and used it here:

I hope you don't mind. I you do, just give me a shout and I'll take it down.

If you ever visit Vietnam, you've definitely gotta try and find a source for cheese. The only thing I ever find is dairy lea. Not acceptable.

Alex C said...

I went back here last night - absolutely as good as ever. We had 13 dishes (12 starters and a pho) for £78 virtually all of them excellent. They do sell their own wine these days but were happy to let me bring mine in, and are still cash only.

We left replete and very happy.