Sunday 6 May 2012

Hanoi Café

To love Vietnamese food is one thing but to gain more cognition about the Vietnamese people themselves goes much deeper than just a bowl of pho. Ever since I noticed the huge refugee camps in Malaysia housing the boat people back in the 80s, I’ve always been intrigued by my South East Asian neighbours. I knew that they were never allowed to settle in Kuala Lumpur because of the fact that the Vietnamese (primarily Buddhist) might disrupt an already awkward balance of ‘harmony’ dominated by the Muslim majority of Malaysia. Sadly the Vietnamese were perceived as yet another threatening Chinese tribe and like an additional kick in the teeth, they came bestowed with communist leanings (communism in Malaysia is defiled and illegal). Over the past three decades I've learned to respect and admire the Vietnamese British, the trauma of the 70s and 80s experienced by the first generation of the Người Việt Hải Ngoại only went further to enhance their reputation as a resilient sort. They’re hardly one to sit by idly or be spoon-fed by the State and end up perennially as spongebobs; no, they are naturally entrepreneurial and resourceful. And like the Chinese community before, the Vietnamese British have established themselves by setting up successful businesses revolving around the restaurant and food trade.

The majority of the Vietnamese folks residing in Hackney and South East London hail from North Vietnam and this is the part of the country that is also responsible for such illustrious dishes like phở, bánh cuốn and bún riêu. As Londoners, we are extremely lucky with the ever-growing number of Vietnamese eateries appearing and thankfully the food served is usually reassuringly authentic. Of course, a so-called ‘Vietnamese’ dining companion or a seasoned Hanoi traveller might snootily disagree, but I don’t give a toss because I wholeheartedly enjoy going for a Vietnamese in London every week. And lest I forget, Vietnamese cuisine found in London is definitely less approximate than its Indian, Thai or Italian equivalent!

Hanoi Café is run and owned by a North Vietnamese family. It has been around for over eight years and that’s despite its ‘homage to the 80s’ style dining room. It’s always practically empty whenever I turn up and remains the least patronised of any restaurants on the Pho Mile. This bodes well for solo diners, agoraphobic sufferers, or cynical anti-socials like yours truly. Hanoi Café obviously know a thing or two about survival by selling only six bowls of noodles daily or could it be due to the regular flow of fully-paid and ghostly diners that turns its competitors into green-eyed monsters!

The food served at this place is pretty much faultless and everyone of them delicious-

Bò lá lốt- grilled beef wrapped in betel leaves.

To find out more about lá lốt and other Vietnamese herbs please click here for an indispensable read .

London’s cheapest soft-shell crab dish can be found at Hanoi Café.

1 x chilli and salt crab at £3.50!

The beef pho.
Beautiful broth but annoyingly let down by the cheap quality meat.

Bún Chả cá Lã Vọng - grilled pieces of fish then pan fried and served with bún (rice vermicelli), salad and herbs.

When it comes to monkfish for the masses, you cannot beat farmed catfish for its taste and value.

Gà kho sả ớt- chicken simmered with lemongrass in hot blistering chilli sauce.

Hanoi Café is as authentic as Vietnamese goes in London and it’s a great place to sample the holy trinity of South East Asian spices of lemongrass, chillies, and garlic. Its hidden service charge is not something that I endorse but nonetheless it’s my kinda secret tip off. Enjoy.  

98 Kingsland Road
London E2 8DP


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