Mien Tay is a Vietnamese restaurant on Kingsland Road, part of the many that make up what is known as Pho Mile. Specialising in the cuisine of South Western Vietnam, they recently opened a branch in Battersea and invited me along to sample their dishes. Located on Lavender Hill, it's actually more convenient for me than Kingsland Road is - when timed right it's a mere 30 minute train ride away.
The menu is over-whelmingly long. I was pleased to see some unusual meats, like frogs legs, eel and goat. Whereas I knew exactly what I wanted for my main - how else do you test a Vietnamese place other than by its Pho? - I was more confused about what to have to start. I wanted several different dishes, so I asked our waitress what she would recommend. She told us she'd bring us a selection. Green papaya salad with dried chilli beef (top) was refreshing, light and the jerky-like strips of beef packed a punch. Next, the Banh Xeo came out - a crispy rice flour pancake coloured with turmeric and stuffed to bursting full of pork and beansprouts, with lettuce leaves and herbs for us to wrap and dip. It was deliciously messy business, and there wasn't a scrap left on the plate.
Our eyes widened when this platter was brought out to us. Prawn paste wrapped around sugar cane, spiced pork patties, chargrilled quail with honey and spices, summer rolls, spring rolls... I looked on in glee while my dining companion had a vague look of fear about him.
I don't often bother with quail as I find it fiddly but these were enough to make me change my mind. Slightly sweet, sticky and meaty, they were worth the fiddle. Dipped in a dish of salt and pepper mixed with lime juice, I couldn't help but to pick the bones dry. Prawn paste wrapped the sugarcane, and gnawing on it was a pleasure; sweet juices mixed with garlicky, bouncy prawn flesh. Summer rolls and spring rolls were adequately made and stuffed with fresh vegetables, but were neglected in favour of the spiced meats.
At this point my friend fretted that he was already full. I patted my belly; still some room left. By this point the dining room was busy and full of chatter. Service started to suffer a bit; I'd heard our neighbouring table complaining that they hadn't received their starters before their mains. Wrong dishes were placed at our table and then whisked away. While mildly irritating, I wasn't particularly bothered; service was so sweet and apologetic I almost wanted to give them a hug.
The above steaming bowl of Pho was placed before me. I'd ordered the Special, which contained a combination of beef balls, brisket and tender, rare slices of beef. I had a sip of the soup stock before garnishing it with the beansprouts, herbs and lime - I almost didn't want to add them. The stock was beautifully flavoured. The noodles retained some bite and were pleasingly elastic. Easily the best Pho I've had in London.
My companion ordered the goat stir-fried with galangal. I wasn't sure if this was a particularly Vietnamese dish, as I usually associate galangal with Thai food. The dish was heavily spiced, almost like a curry and the meat was slightly chewy which is what I'd expected of goat, with a hint of gaminess. The dish was rather one dimensional in flavour - there was an initial smack of the galangal, but not a whole lot else. By this point, my friend declared himself overstuffed. Our lovely hosts were kind enough to pack up the rest of the goat dish to be enjoyed later.
All in all, it was a fantastic meal. None of the dishes passed the £6 mark, and being a BYO place means it is a place to have a meal of great value. I think the menu could do with being simpled down; there were a lot of Chinese-sounding dishes and I think they should stick to what they're obviously good at - Vietnamese food. As well as the salad, the pancake and the quail, the Pho was fantastic, and my friend who'd tried some of mine said it was amazing. A gem in South London - though I wish they'd opened south east way.
180 Lavender Hill
London SW11 5TQ
Tel: 0207 350 0721