Saturday 24 October 2009

Mien Tay, Battersea

Vietnamese food is quickly becoming an obsession of mine. Fresh clean flavours, some chilli kick, and often the comfort of deeply beefy noodle soups.

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.

Mien Tay

180 Lavender Hill
London SW11 5TQ

Tel: 0207 350 0721

Mien Tay on Urbanspoon


aforkfulofspaghetti said...

Great review, Lizzie. Have been looking forward to seeing a blogger's review of it, as it's on my 'should-probably-visit' radar. I'll now promote it to the 'must-visit' radar.

Wish I had your hollow legs, though. Something tells me I'm going to suffer like your dining companion... ;)

Adam said...

There was nothing vague about my look of fear! It was a lovely meal though.

Krista from said...

Lizzie, thank you for your post, I am pleased you were able to try so much! I have showed this to Mr and Mrs Le of Mien Tay and specifically raised the two points you made re the areas to be improved.

They asked me to drop you a note, firstly to thank you for taking the time to come along and then write about them and are proud to see their restaurant on your site. They said they are happy you both enjoyed your meal and you are welcome back any time.

RE the problems with service they said they were very sorry for this and were unaware this happened. They said there is going to be a meeting with service staff and also the ordering process is going to be addressed.

The menu - They have recently updated their menu in reflection to what customers ordered. They understand your comment about the Chinese influences but say some of these dishes are popular with customers and would not like to offend by taking these off now.

They added that they feel comfortable being able to offer this size of a menu in both quality and timing and are sure it does not affect the standard of their cooking.

Chris Pople said...

Not just a good but a GREAT restaurant - in Battersea!! Where I live!! I still can't believe my luck.

Kavey said...

Yum, sound really nice.

I'm trying to recall where I've had prawn paste on sugarcane sticks a few times, but my brain has gone blank. I really like it though!

Hollow Legs said...

A Forkful - thanks! It was a plentiful spread. Take an appetite with you...

Adam - You did pretty well - not as well as I did, but not bad ;)

Hurlstone - I'm glad you enjoyed the post. I hope I wasn't too harsh in my criticisms, it was a busy night after all.

I am one of those people that suffer from the terror of food envy, which makes choosing dishes pretty tricky. Having so much choice makes it really difficult! I'm sure all those Chinese-influenced dishes are also great, and I see your point on offering people the things they like; it just baffles me that people would go to a Vietnamese place and choose something more Chinese - kind of like ordering omelette and chips down the curry house. I just hope people don't eschew that amazing pho for more generic dishes.

Chris - you are a lucky man. Try the pho next time - so delicious.

Kavey - Mmm, I love the sugarcane, so juicy.

HoustonWok said...

HI new to your blog,
Undeniably this looks absolutely delicious. I of course love Vietnamese food and have wondered about Vnmese food in the UK. Perhaps it will be my missions to travel the world just to eat at Vnmese restaurants in countries other than the states. Cheers to you!

The Ample Cook said...

God, what a dribble-inducing meal.

Fantastic photos.

Helen @ World Foodie Guide said...

That pho looks phonomenal (sorry, had to get that in). Lavender Hill might as well be on the moon for me, so I shall head over to the other branch as it's been on my list forever...

An American in London said...

Almost a year ago, I visited Mien Tay on Dalston Road and had a pretty bad meal there (which was sad bc I'd previously had a very good dinner there). The drop in quality was pretty drastic.

So it's interesting to hear the Battersea location is good, though.

Mr Noodles said...

As I live south of the river, I will definitely come here, I've been on their website and I noticed they do seafood hot pot (steamboat) from £30 for two.

I agree with you about Vietnamese places serving up Chinese dishes but I guess it's good business practice. You know how it is sometimes, there'll be an unadventurous sod amongst a group of mates who's scared of trying real Vietnamese food but can be palmed off with chicken & cashew nuts.

Browners said...

Sounds fantastic. And for once it's on my doorstep. Looks like we're in luck.

Ollie said...

Have been hearing very good things about this place and it's not too far from me - will definitely go. Sounds bloody reasonable, too. Nice to see the owners responding in the comments.

TC said...

Sounds lovely, and just around the corner. Now I just have to persuade R that he will like it!

Luca said...

That sounds great Schmoof and is very close to one of my clients. I'll have to give it a try.

(Hi Kavey - they have the prawns and sugar cane at Gerrard's corner)