Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Tây Đô Restaurant

This post is about my fifteenth visit to Tây Đô and besides, The Pho Mile page needed a bit of updating. Just before I proceed I would like to ‘wikify’ my bit on the origins of Phở, the iconic Vietnamese noodle soup. Phở was and is technically based on and inspired by the South Chinese (both Cantonese and Hokkien) street and working class’ staple of broad rice-noodle soup (hor fun tong or kway teow soup). The Chinese would make the stock out of everything to do with a pig, in Hokkien its literal translation would be ‘pig head, pig bone soup’, but thankfully they veered towards a more harmonious description of ‘clear soup’ instead. The only adulteration imposed on the mildish ‘hor fun tong’ would be the optional additions of some chopped-up spring onions, white pepper and fresh cut chillies…but hardly ever herby! However the good North Vietnamese folks decided to up the ante and made the stock with everything to do with a cow instead, resulting in an immensely richer and emphatically yangish (yin and etc) broth and to which, they added cinnamon, star anise, fish sauce and sugar to further mollify the sense of taste. And in order to counter any yin and yang mishaps, our friends from Hanoi thoughtfully or perhaps more logically, served the end Phở dish with yingish accompaniments like basil, mint, coriander, wedge of lime (lemon in Blighty) and enough bean sprouts to feed the 5K. Like a fry-up, laksa, burger and unashamedly this; Phở is one of my Death Row last meals. A bowl of Phở is nutritiously holistic and the most fragrant thing ever.

Tây Đô is Vietnamese for the ‘western capital’. The restaurant is the larger sibling of Tây Đô Café, and they’re both established stalwarts on The Pho Mile. It’s also quite possibly the most prominent Vietnamese joint on the stretch of road with the largest amount of restaurant covers…it’s big! And like most Vietnamese eateries in London, only square or rectangle tables are utilised; roundtables are simply too Chinese and thus banquety. The service headed by a ‘front-of-house’ boss, who’s permanently watching the world go by and altogether inhibited behind the bar, is consistently more of a miss than hit. The young waiting staff, lacking English as a second language or let alone third and beyond, display little or no anthropomorphism acknowledgement to the simplest of requests. I suppose the usual consolation lies in the undetermined BYO policy…vague it may seem but I don’t think you’ll be turned away with your own bottles of Buds or Jacob's Creeks.

Enticing menu and typos withstanding.

It was a cold Sunday when I turned up here for lunch and so I duly ordered a hot Vietnamese coffee. Due to the ‘lost in translation’ moment an iced Vietnamese coffee arrived instead. I remonstrated, albeit politely, with the boy waiter that it was ‘hot’ I wanted. A couple minutes later he replaced the cold beverage with the above. Nescafé instant, WTF! Hey son, you pulling my Don Juan, what’s this? After five minutes of sign language and English pidgin with the boy waiter, I realised in the end that Tây Đô Restaurant only serves Vietnamese coffee ‘iced’ and hot coffee means instant! Teetotallers, my advice is to stick to green tea please.

I ordered the two following things to ensure that Tây Đô measures up to what Vietnamese fodder is all about in LONDON (and please give me break as I don’t mean Hanoi or HCM City)-

Bánh cuốn
Pork filled rice rolls. Not totally dissimilar to the Chinese cheung fun but more delicate and refined. Served with blanched bean sprouts, coriander and nước chấm (fish sauce based dipping sauce); the bánh cuốn rolls were steamed to perfection and, the pork and wood ear fungus (don’t be put off by this, if truffles sound ok then you’re fine) filling were excellent. A must have starter at this place, but perhaps a bit too much for a lone diner.

The Phở bò
Or to be precise the Phở đặc biệt (special pho).

Now if I were a Vietnamese diner I would expect tripe, tendon, heart plus the more desirable sounding bits. Alas for me, Tây Đô toned the whole dish down with only the latter by chucking in a generous amount of raw slices of beef from the lower chest of the cow (flank and brisket) and a lone beef meatball instead. This was a big bowl (and so it should, pho is after all a one meal dish) served with the textbook accompaniment of the usual herby garnishes. At least Tây Đô are on the right track with the presentation bit. Taste wise, a smidgen above average, the soup was short on depth and beefiness. Maybe if I turned up in the evening it would’ve been better instead. But don’t let that be an excuse as a bowl of pho is a breakfast dish in Vietnam.

Tây Đô is above ok and shouldn’t disappoint at best. Come here for the bánh cuốn, salt and pepper eel and bánh xèo (Vietnamese filled crepe) otherwise it’s strictly Plan B if you can’t get a table at Loong Kee Café, Hung Việt, or Que Việt .

60 Kingsland Road
E2 8DP



Mr Noodles said...

Good bit of history on pho - I love that kind of stuff. Incidentally I was reading somewhere recently that pad thai was based on stir-fried pho noodles that were introduced to Thailand by Vietnamese traders.

I may have to revisit the pho mile myself at some stage - it's been a while that I've gone for some proper Vietnamese.

Unknown said...

Excellent write up as ever.

I work in Hoxton so have made it my project to go to them all for lunches, Have got the train-spotterish urge to tick them all off!

Just to say I have tried Anh Dao, the new one – pretty good pho and nice service, though they have music on at lunch time which I don’t like in restaurants when I want to read Private Eye and eat pho in peace.

Have you tried the hu tieu bo kho at Viet Grill? – good variation from pho, massively rich and aromatic broth and enormous chunks of long braised brisket which fall apart into these gelatinous slivers of meat, god it’s good. Keep up the good work - maybe a similar project on the Ockakbashi mile just up the road (not quite as clearly defined but could be fun)?

meemalee said...

Despite the fact that I now work on the same road as the Pho Mile (well, Bishopsgate), I still haven't been for pho as often as I'd like.

Btw, Happy New Year Les!

bellaphon said...

麵先生- Thank you, I did assume most of the pho’s origin but it should tally with whatever gospel facts there might be. For our next meet-up I want something nowt to do with noodles, let’s hanker for injera instead!

Oliver- Thank you and beyond. I work in W1 and snore ASBOly in W2 but the East End is spiritually where I lay my hat. Been to Anh Dao thrice and the post’s imminent. As for Viet Grill, I couldn't agree with you more that the broth is rich but too reduced IMO. My Viet chef buddy suggested it was too misleading and a faux pas…think consommé or so he reminds me naggingly. Don’t get me started on ‘real’ kebabs!

MiMi- HNY to you too and lovely to hear from you. I did try to become your 2000th follower on Twitter but was somewhat tortoised!

Gastro1 said...

I have to say I find the general quality of Vietnamese restos to be average to poor compared to Paris then again Indo-Pakistani ones over there are rank.

Wonder if there is a crude, causal relationship between Colonisers enjoying the best from former colonies ?

I have Mien Tay , Battersea on my door step but your reviews have inspired me to go hackney more often.

bellaphon said...

Gastro1, Sir- I wholeheartedly agree with you that Viet fare in London pales in comparison to Paris, like yourself, been there done that and I still can’t understand why! You might be right on the colonial side of things, Indonesian rijstaffel in Amsterdam was pretty memorable for me but then again Malaysian (never Malayan!) food in London is still very much a lottery. If the Mien Tay across the river is similar to the original on The Pho Mile, then I’m sorry to say it’s invariably approximate. Thank you, Dino, for stopping by.

gastrogeek said...

Song Que has over 20 kinds of pho. I like it in there a lot. I also broke many a fast in Tay Do during Ramadan. They do an excellent home made lemonade by the way. But my favourite Vietnamese place on Kingsland Road doesn't have a name. You just knock on a door and give a special codeword before a very angry Vietnamese lady lets you in. It's the best food I've ever eaten.

bellaphon said...

Hey Rejina, thank you but you must drag me along when you're visiting the angry Vietnamese lady again!