Thursday, 27 January 2011

Anh Đào

The meaning of cherry blossom is both significant and symbolic- the Chinese view it as a beauty of feminine dominance as well as a standing for love whereas the Japanese traditionally see it as a transience of life (seeing that the flower blooms for such a short time; enjoy the most of it and banish all emotions when it dies). Anh Đào is Vietnamese for cherry blossom and it’s also the latest addition to The Phở Mile. I would like to think that this new restaurant has based its intentions on the Chinese version as opposed the albatross approach of the Japanese.

Anh Đào took over the large premises that used to be a seedy snooker hall in which Tom Waits wouldn’t feel out of place singing his songs about dwarfs and of morbid pathos. In order to set itself apart from the other Vietnamese eateries on Kingsland Road, the owner decided for a more upmarket approach, but without the PR-led (or dare I say manufactured) overtures. It’s additionally safe to state that the majority of Vietnamese restaurants in Blighty thrive on a no-nonsense but ultimately Orwellian ambience. However the overall surroundings at Anh Đào evoke a plushier and grander atmosphere, and bamboo (so beloved by the Vietnamese) is righteously retained as the décor’s main element. Barely less than two months old, this new place is run and owned by a most charming lady (and if you do meet her, you wouldn’t believe she’s also a mum of five kids including a 25-year-old lawyer…Oriental genes!). Her well-founded attributes are also passed on to her waiting staff, so no cockiness or extreme lost-in-translation moments here except a first-class service, which in itself, a trend setting bonus for a place like The Pho Mile.

It took me three visits to pen this review. The reason being is to do with the bowls of pho.

Prawn crackers (gratis at point of writing).

A good thing to appease newcomers and the pre-intoxicated lot. (FYI, these like most Chinese crackers taste nowt of prawns, the best ones hail from Malaysia or Indonesia).

Gỏi cuốn- summer rolls.

Textbook like and thus faultless. The big fat juicy prawns were flawless but to be perfectly honest I’m getting tired of this dish as a whole, I would’ve much preferred the more sinful chả giò (deep-fried version aka Vietnamese spring rolls).

Salt and pepper tofu

Predictably yawnish.

Spotted on the menu- langoustines!

Tôm càng nướng sốt Anh Đào- Char grilled langoustines with Anh Đào sauce.

Now hang on a second, these specimens look too bulbous and blatantly prawn-like to be langoustines. The lady proprietor was duly but politely accosted on the matter. “These aren’t true scampi!” I exclaimed. “But they are…they’re Vietnamese langoustines!” said Madame Anh Đào. Now being the kind of difficult and tenacious sod that I am, I countered immediately by requesting, “I need to see the heads and the claws for myself please”. “You can’t Sir, as these things were imported into the EU without the arms and heads”, she asserted. I sort of took her words for it and in spite of the niggling uncertainty surrounding the crustaceans on the plate; I dug-in. The sauce was divine- buttery and herby but the expertly grilled ‘prawns’ tasted more of insipid crayfish*.

Bún chay- vegetarian noodle soup.

If truth be told then I’m not the right person to comment on my dining companion’s choice of mains. Being a profound and insanely proud omnivore I found the above flavourless and pointless.

Phở bò tái- pho with flank and raw beef fillet.

My heart sank twice with this dish. First no usual pho garnishes of coriander, basil, bean sprouts and a wedge of lemon (only in Engerland that lime’s consistently excluded), and secondly the broth tasted totally shallow. The first misdemeanour was however served upon my insistence (Madame Anh Đào felt the garnishes were unnecessary as they lowered the temperature of the soup considerably, but I begged to differ!).

Thank goodness for the chilli sauce!

Squirt and more squirts…a little redemption to an otherwise disappointing dish. A justifiable fail!

A fruit salad on the house.

I think of it as a cup of kindness for times to come.


On my second visit I was presented with this. Head and claws, the Vietnamese langoustine finely apparelled! But sorry mate, in my books it’s no langoustine or crayfish but a long-arm freshwater prawn also known as Macrobrachium rosenbergii. I’m thorough that way and I still believe that good old king prawns taste a lot better than lobsters, crayfish and Vietnamese langoustines for that matter!

I began the meal with three starters.

Chim cút nướng- grilled quails.

Usually the poor bird is blackened to smithereens or half-cooked to encourage food poisoning, but here at Anh Đào I’ve eaten the best quail, full stop. It was beautifully grilled and indeed an unforgettable and celestial experience.

Chả mực- squid balls or patties.

Packed full of dill and herbs with chunky but tender squid pieces. A mouth-watering appetiser of addictive proportions. Therefore I’m pleased to state that these squid balls make all the other versions of calamari fritti or crispy squid mercilessly humdrum

Now I have to raise my arm up on this as I’ve forgotten what it was called. If what little memory I possess serves me right, it was king fish (not too unlike Spanish mackerel) on sticks (satay). The combination of the superbly prepared fish satays (with lemongrass, chilli, dill, fish sauce, etc) and the piquant peanut sauce was simply gorgeous. Stunning (if you can find it on the menu!).

Let’s be honest, three of the starters I’ve had here beat the shit out of the five small plates at the woeful Kopapa !

A veggie version of bún thịt nướng- rice vermicelli served cold with white radish (hate the word daikon), carrots, chilli, herbs, nước chấm (fish sauce) and a fried combo of tofu and aubergine in place of the usual grilled pork.

Please do bear in mind that the above was ‘off-piste’, as the vegetarian options on Anh Đào’s menu were somewhat lacking. And speaking of vegetarian dishes, a friend (a non-fish eating green bug) of a friend absolutely loves it passionately but she’s in constant denial with the nước chấm stuff, she thinks of it as a vinaigrette. I’ve been told to keep schtum ‘bout the whole thing…poor girl. Anyway, methinks a fulfilling dish, the lovely beancurd pieces are moreish enough to convince the meat-eaters.

Gratis test dish of cấn nước chả cá- a deep-fried and fishy version of the exceedingly tantalising and iconic Vietnamese ham sausage (Chả lụa ).

I loved it and can’t help but think that it should go down like a treat in Glasgow. Pescetarians, keep your fins crossed that it might become a permanent fixture on the menu.

More noodle frenzies...

...phở bò tái again!

Better on the second occasion, at least it came with the garnishes and the raw beef slices were of sound quality. The soup/broth was still hardly indicative (weak and flat), let’s just say that a non-Vietnamese like Rick Stein or come to that, yours truly, would make a better job at it! Based on my second sample, pho doesn’t rock at Anh Đào!

Bún chả giò- similar to bún thịt nướng but deep-fried spring rolls are substituted for the pork.

Miles better than the beef pho and a must-order at this place. A dish fit for the gods.


Third visit and no more bowls of pho for moi.

Veggie chả giò (spring rolls).

I’ve said it a hundred times before, everything that is fried is twice as nice. Recommended but alas, my vegan chums, I sense taints of fish sauce!

Nem cua- crab spring rolls.

An Anh Đào special and what a downright delight! Humongous amount of sweet crabmeat encased within the crispiest rice-crêpe imaginable. An absolute bargain at £5.50 and you owe it to yourself…a destination dish!

Cá tráp nướng- grilled seabream.

I’m not called Fat Pig Les for nothing, it was the biggest and plummiest fish I’ve ever had and all to myself! And to save the last and most obvious adjective, it was immensely delicious. A dish 2die4!

Vietnamese hot and sour soup with catfish- only ordered it to lubricate the fish and portion of rice.

A catalyst for dehydration, best stick to the Chinese version. However I suspect only the Salt Queen would praise it!

The crux is- Anh Đào comes highly recommended but avoid the Phở! Go à la carte or slightly off-piste if you’re vegetarian. Let Anh Đào blossom forever more!

*Was right and all, Google’s translation of tôm càng turns out to be crayfish!

106-108 Kingsland Road
London E2 8DP


Mr Noodles said...

Those giant crab spring rolls remind me of similar ones I've eaten in Hanoi. They were even bigger, and were served with bun (rice vermicelli) and fish sauce. As it's unlikely I'll be in Vietnam anytime soon, I must make a trip out east sometime.

Anonymous said...

you're a complaining cunt

bellaphon said...

Hey Noods, gissa shout when you fancy a bowl of pho.

Anon- my heartfelt sympathies to your m...

Unknown said...

Good to get the write up - agree the pho I had was middling but will get back there to check the crab rolls, they look amazing! Good as always to get some dishes recommended.

bellaphon said...

Oliver- Thank you. Viet Grill next; massively saturated (reviews-wise), but gotta be done.

Hanna @ Swedish Meatball said...

Wow - very thorough review, made me chuckle! I love Mien Tay and Song Que, and Viet Grill is pretty awesome too. On a mission to try more of them though, which one is your fav Kingsland Road one?

bellaphon said...

Hey Meatball, thanks for stopping. Viet Grill's very good but my constant fave is Loong Kee, but not everyone's cuppa.

Anonymous said...

Easily the worst I've ever had on Kingsland