We’ve been eating so much Vietnamese food recently! We now have not just one but TWO good Vietnamese restaurants near us in Croydon and we recently visited the hotly anticipated Viet Food in Chinatown, the Vietnamese street food restaurant run by Jeff Tan, who used to be at Hakkasan. The address online listed Wardour Street and as a ‘hip’ new place, obviously I went in search of it down the cooler, hipper end of the street – I couldn’t have been more wrong! Eventually we had to backtrack and head towards Chinatown and there we found it…on the old site of a former, totally rubbish Vietnamese restaurant. Ha! Let’s see how this one would compare.

We waited about 5 minutes to get a seat and to hasten things, we agreed to share a table with another couple upstairs. Even with sharing, we certainly had enough space for all our dishes, though I had to swap seats with poor Blai as he could barely balance on his original tiny stool. Orders were coming out fast and the turnover was quick. Bookings are available as all the choice tables around the windows had all been reserved.

Our dishes arrived as they were ready. Our Coconut Calamari (£5) was very moreish – if you’ve ever had coconut prawns, then you can imagine this dish. Thick rings of calamari were coated with a crunchy coating with lots of dried coconut and the sweet chilli sauce served alongside was a nice complement. On the tables were a couple of other excellent homemade chilli sauces too – a red and a green – and both went well with….fried stuff.

Coconut Calamari

A Slow Cooked Haddock (£7.80) were two pieces of tender fish. I have no idea if they were slow cooked though… they were certainly tender…perhaps just cooked slowly at a very low temperature? The sauce was a slightly sweet, slightly savoury, mild brown sauce.

Slow Cooked Haddock

Our Vietnamese Sausage and Prawn Fried Rice (£5) was excellent, both chock full of ingredients and incredibly good. We’ve not yet met a Vietnamese fried rice that we didn’t like. We cleaned out this cute bamboo container.

Vietnamese Sausage and Prawn Fried Rice

Bun Thit Nuong (£8.20) was a bowl of bun (the Vietnamese rice noodles) topped with vegetables, herbs, pickles, and grilled marinated pork and grilled pork balls. The nuoc cham (the Vietnamese fish sauce dressing) needed a little more of a punch but overall, a very good dish that would be suitable for a one dish meal.

Bun Thit Nuong

Our Crispy Spring Rolls (£4.80) also arrived at about this time. Unfortunately, I wasn’t particularly fond of this new style of very crunchy wrapper. I prefer the usual rice paper wrappers that fry up all light and crisp. The filling was also unmemorable.

Crispy Spring Rolls

There were two options for dessert: a sago dessert and a jelly. We went for the former, which was Pandan Sago with Caramelised Banana (£4). They served the generously sized portion between us with little bowls for us to serve ourselves. This went down a treat, all coconut milk and pandan and sago. The only dud were the bananas which had never been near any heat – no caramelisation anywhere.

Pandan Sago with Banana

Our bill (with a juice and still water) came to £44.90, which included a surprising 10% service charge (surprising because how many restaurants go lower than the usual 12.5%, eh?). It’s certainly not a bad spot in Chinatown and is much better than what was on the site previously.

Viet Food
34-36 Wardour Street
London W1D 6QT

I suspect my new neighbourhood is full of little gems that need wheedling out. One that never needed any investigation is An Nam, a Vietnamese restaurant in the Wing Yip Centre on the Purley Way. Their chef has won local awards and while it’s not as crowded as Tai Tung (the Cantonese restaurant) at the front of the centre, they more than hold their own. We’re pretty much regulars there now.

However, we’ve mainly had their starters and one dish meals – very similar to the casual street food you’d encounter in Vietnam. On our most recent trip, we brought my brother along and he gave the place a hearty thumbs up – the kind of thing I like to hear from someone who did a long work placement in the country! Anyway, we didn’t eat all that you see below on just one visit; this must have been over at least four, I reckon.

I love Chả Giò (£4.50) and the version here at An Nam is fantastic. I love the sticky, crispy rice paper wrapped pork rolls and I love that they’re served properly with the lettuce and herbs and pickles, all to wrap around the fried rolls.

Chả Giò

Gỏi Cuốn Tôm (£4.50) are the fresh summer rolls filled with salad, rice vermicelli and prawns and their rolls are light and not at all stodgy like others I’ve had.

Gỏi Cuốn Tôm

Their Bánh Cuốn Thịt (£4.50) are definitely one of our favourites. These thin rice rolls are filled with seasoned minced pork and mushrooms and are just gorgeous with all those herbs and the usual side of nước chấm. They do have a tendency to slip out between one’s chopsticks though!

Bánh Cuốn Thịt

Bún Chả Giò (£6.50) makes a meal of the chả giò with the addition of the bún (rice vermicelli) and salad and pickles (daikon and carrot). Pour over that nuoc cham and dig in!

Bún Chả Giò

Bún Thịt Heo Nướng (£7) normally has bún but we can substitute rice…which is what we clearly did here. This is accompanied by fabulously delicious grilled marinated pork slices, complete with crispy edges. And there’s a generous pile of the thinly sliced, tender pork too.

Bún Thịt Heo Nướng (but with rice)

Wait for it…..Bún Thịt Nướng Chả Giò (£7.50)…. combines the best of both worlds – the grilled pork and the fried rolls.

Bún Thịt Nướng Chả Giò

Chả, Bi, Suon Nướng (£7.50) is another rice dish which can also be served with bun. There’s a grilled pork chop (drool, so good), a slice of steamed pork and egg loaf and shredded pork and pig skin; it’s a winning combo.

Chả, Bi, Suon Nướng

It’s not all just stuff on rice and noodles. They have noodle soups too. Their Bún Bò Hue (£7) is a spicy bowl full of thick rice noodles and tender stewed beef. This really hit the spot on that cold night when our heating wasn’t working yet!

Bún Bò Hue

We are going to have to try more of their main dishes soon though. A spicy steamed aubergine we ordered as a side vegetable for dinner one night was brilliant – the soft, silky, steamed aubergine had been sliced and laid flat and then topped with a mixture of soy, garlic, chilli, scallions and fried shallots.

Spicy Steamed Aubergine

Next on my list to try there (if you can tear me away from any of the bun bowls) is their deep fried fish – I saw a massive platter go by our table one night and it looked fantastic. Their pho is also pretty solid as is their fried rice (why is Vietnamese fried rice always ridiculously good? What secret ingredient do they put in there?!). The only thing that was a dud so far was a random pork udon soup we once ordered but if you stick to the Vietnamese classics (and anything that says it’s their specialty), you won’t go wrong.

An Nam Vietnamese Restaurant
Wing Yip Centre
544 Purley Way
Croydon CR0 4NZ

An Nam on Urbanspoon

More healthy eating before I get onto the total shameless gluttony that occurred in Hong Kong. This time it’s with one of my favourite vegetables, the ever versatile aubergine. I love the flavour one gets when burning an aubergine…burning may be too harsh a word. Essentially it’s cooking a whole aubergine until its skin is charred and the entire thing is soft. The silky, uncharred flesh inside develops a smokiness that is particularly good in salads.

Vietnamese Aubergine Salad

I came across this aubergine salad in Mai Pham’s excellent cookbook Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table and had to try what appeared to be an extremely simple recipe (adapted to feed the two of us). It’s certainly a dish that’s more than the sum of its grand total of five ingredients (four if you don’t include salt). The silky vegetable gets coated in a savoury mixture of spring onion and fish sauce and somehow just pulls together into something you can’t stop scoffing. Good stuff.


This salad ended up being part of a meal we ate with white rice, long beans fried with egg and leftover curry.

Vietnamese Aubergine Salad
serves 2-3 as a course with rice.

3 large, long Asian aubergines
1.5 tbsp sunflower oil
1 large spring onion, thinly sliced
0.5 tbsp fish sauce
a pinch of salt

Grill your aubergines until their skins are black – I whack them onto our gas stove and char them. You can also throw them into a very hot oven or better yet, under the grill. You want the skins to be black and the insides all soft. Leave until cool enough to handle.

When cool enough to handle, peel the blackened skins off and cut each aubergine into lengths of about 5-6 cm and cut each length into 4-6 strips (depending on how you like your aubergine pieces).

Heat a small frying pan (or any frying pan really) and add the oil. When the oil is hot, add the spring onion and stir until wilted. Take off the heat and stir in the fish sauce and salt. Toss this dressing with the aubergine strips.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

This was my first attempt to recreate a Vietnamese curry that I loved in Vancouver; however, the curry from my memories had large meatballs while this is a more traditional cà ri gà – a chicken curry. Still, it was delicious and a relatively quick curry with a short ingredient list to make on a weekday; it really helped with my curry craving that day! We sopped up the gravy with a baguette, as is done in Vietnam (so I’ve read, I’ve not been) but you can also serve it with rice or noodles.

Vietnamese Chicken Curry

I didn’t have a proper Vietnamese curry powder (I found a photo of this brand but I have no idea what is available in London)and so, on the advice I found online, substituted a very yellow (yup, lots of turmeric) Malaysian curry powder (Yeo’s brand in the packet). If you need a bit more heat, add some chili paste in but check first if you’re using a Malaysian powder – most have some chilli powder in the blend. Do make sure you give it as long a simmer as you can; too short a time and you’ll still be able to taste the raw spices.

Vietnamese Chicken and Sweet Potato Curry
adapted from this recipe.
serves 2-3.

Approx. 500g chicken thigh fillets, trimmed and cut into large chunks
1 large orange-fleshed sweet potato, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 large potato (floury), peeled
2 large shallots, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 stick lemongrass, left whole but smashed
a thumb sized lump of ginger, minced
4 tbsps curry powder
2 tbsps sunflower oil
160 mL coconut milk
1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsps fish sauce
2 spring onions, finely sliced
a few sprigs of coriander

Mix the chunks of thigh fillet together with 2 tbsps of the curry powder and a good pinch of salt. Set aside.

Prepare all your vegetables. Cut the potato in half and then chop one half into large chunks and cut the other half into small pieces. These small pieces will help thicken the curry.

Heat a pot over medium heat and add the sunflower oil to heat. When hot, add the shallots, garlic and ginger and saute until the shallots are soft and the ginger and garlic are fragrant. Add the rest of the curry powder and the lemongrass and continue frying for a couple of minutes.

Throw in the chicken and cook until no raw bits appear. Add the coconut milk and then cover with water. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat and let simmer for about 10-15 minutes.

Add the vegetables, add water if required (to cover them all) and continue simmering – probably another 20-30 minutes. The vegetables should be soft and the smaller bits of potato disintegrating into the sauce. As well, there shouldn’t be a raw curry powder flavour to the curry; if there is, continue simmering, adding water if it gets too thick.

Stir in the sugar, fish sauce and salt to taste. Dish out into bowls and top with the spring onion and coriander.

Serve with white rice or noodles or a baguette on the side.

Last Wednesday, a friend from work organised a dinner at Song Que – I was really looking forward to it as I’d not been to Pho Mile in a long time and Song Que is meant to be one of the best along the stretch. Even on a Wednesday night, the place was packed and there was a constant queue (albeit a short one) at the door. Though a table was booked for us as 7:30pm, we didn’t make it there until 8pm but luckily, a large round table freed up just in time for us seven.

The menu is long and takes quite a bit of perusing. When a dish is ordered, the waiter whips out his ballpoint pen and scribbles your order number on the paper tablecloth near you, Wagamama style. Watch out for those waiters – they love a good joke or two. I asked one for some chili sauce for my pho and he shook his head – no; I was so puzzled as I’d seen bottles of the stuff on other tables. He walked away as I sat there in confusion but then promptly came back with all the available condiments and with a big grin on his face, happy that he’d played a good joke on me. Uh huh.

Anyway, I ordered a Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk to drink, something I would later regret as I lay in bed that night, my mind racing. I wasn’t to know of those effects, of course, as I sipped on this sweet, icy treat.

Vietnamese Coffee with Condensed Milk

To start, we ordered a number of appetisers to share between us. I don’t remember their Vietnamese names (I didn’t take a photo of the menu) so bear with me as I call these dishes by their generic sounding English names!

First up, beef wrapped in betel leaves. These juicy little parcels came with a small pile of rice vermicelli, lots of mint and Vietnamese basil, and plenty of pickled carrots and daikon in a green pepper cup. Delicious.

Beef in Betel Leaves

Beef in Betel Leaves

The grilled squid in tofu sauce was tender and tasty though I wasn’t actually sure what the tofu sauce was.

Grilled Squid with Tofu Sauce

The meaty spring rolls were good specimens of the Vietnamese variety but nothing seemed to suggest anything particularly special about these ones.

Vietnamese Spring Rolls

Two large summer rolls came to each order, each one plump with three prawns. The freshness of these went down a treat.

Summer Rolls

For the vegetarian in our group, we ordered the green papaya salad minus the pork and prawns. Even without these meaty delights, the salad was gorgeous! It took a lot of self-discipline not to gobble up the whole plateful and thus leave none for our vegetarian.

Green Papaya Salad

The fried soft shell crabs were excellent; the hacked up crabs were lightly battered and fried and served with a scattering of garlic, spring onions and sliced chilies.

Fried Soft Shell Crab

I thought the weakest and most disappointing of our appetisers was the prawn paste on sugar cane. The prawn paste was fine enough but the sugar cane itself was quite terrible to chew on after the paste was chewed off. The prawn paste had left an almost unpalatable saltiness to the cane. Ah well.

Prawn Paste on Sugar Cane

For mains, it was every man for himself. A couple at our table opted for the single dish with egg fried rice option but I have no idea how Vietnamese these dishes were as they were sitting on the opposite side of the table. A couple others went with the bun (rice vermicelli) with various porky things on top – I think there was grilled pork, shredded pork and perhaps more of the spring rolls.

Bun with Various Porky Toppings

For the final three of us, we each had pho with rare steak, well done flank, tendon, tripe and beef balls. Now this pho just blows the pho at Pho out of the water (how many phos in one sentence?). The broth was deeply beefy, the noodles not at all mushy, the herbs generous and fresh, the beef all delicious. The portion too was huge and probably would have been enough for me. We dipped our heads towards the bowls and slurped away happily.

Pho Bo

The Table

As we were full to bursting, we skipped dessert, the only offerings being ice cream and a che, a Vietnamese soupy dessert. It was for the best, we reckoned, as we rolled out of the restaurant after splitting the bill – £16 each. (You can easily get away with spending less than a tenner if you stick to just the pho or bun and a drink.) So far, Song Que is the best Vietnamese restaurant I’ve been to in London – what are your suggestions for worthy competitors?

Song Que
134 Kingsland Road
London E2 8DY

Song Que on Urbanspoon