Good quality Vietnamese food at some of the cheapest prices around – even for Shoreditch.
Mien Tay is nestled, unsurprisingly, on that stretch of Kingsland Road which includes Vietnamese restaurants, Vietnamese restaurants and more Vietnamese restaurants. Although it’s just a few doors down from some of the more well known establishments, it’s making a name for itself thanks to its solid food and extraordinarily friendly staff.
The restaurant consists of three small, interconnecting rooms packed to capacity with as many tables as possible. Although it’s not really canteen-style seating, you may find yourself with only a sliver of space between you and the table beside. The white walls with sea blue detailing are decorated with colourful, almost tropical prints, whilst the menus are held together with bamboo. On each table a lotus flower floats in a small bowl of water. In the front room, a small shrine is tucked into the corner, happily smoking with incense and offering tiny treats and pots of tea.
Most people don’t seem to mind the crowds, and indeed it feels that word of mouth is spreading fast as there’s a constant flow of people eating in and ordering takeaway, from the expected trendy Shoreditch types to older groups of friends and families. Staff are constantly circling to make sure everyone’s satisfied, and they’re very good at advising on dishes and even offering some off-the-menu options if you ask. (For instance, tofu can be substituted for meat in any dish.) The staff at Mien Tay are astonishingly friendly – especially for London – and care so much about how you like the food that at the end of the night you’ll feel like you’ve left their home, rather than their restaurant.
The menu has an enormous selection of dozens upon dozens of dishes, whilst the prices are almost jaw-droppingly low. There’s hardly anything over £10 here and some of the starters are only a few pounds; however, portions are large and well suited for sharing which means you save even more. Two people can have a veritable feast for about £30 - £40. Starters include prawn and pork spring rolls, which are large, plump and fresh, with an almost sticky pastry wrapping instead of the usual fried affair. The diced pork and prawns inside are nice and meaty, and the peanut dipping sauce that comes with it is sweet and thin. Spicy fried squid are well-textured, with large flakes of chilli sprinkled across the dish, whilst the soft-shell crab is fried to a delicious, garlicky, salty crisp without losing any of the meat’s flavour. Char grilled prawn with sugar cane, another starter, are nice and tender, whilst the sugar cane they’re wrapped around give them a hint of sweetness – and give you something to chew on whilst you wait for more food to arrive.
From Mien Tay’s main dishes, prawns with garlic sauce are almost obscenely large and come head, tails and all, dressed in a thick, savoury, garlic sauce. It’s a bit of a mess trying to peel the shell from the succulent prawn beneath it, but luckily you also get a bowl of water on the side as well. Recommended with this is the egg fried rice, which is light and fluffy and seems much healthier than the Chinese takeway version. Pho, the traditional Vietnamese noodle soup, comes in a few different varieties, including beef, brisket, meatballs, chicken, prawns, mixed seafood, plus spicy versions. The chicken version is absolutely packed with meat and long, thin rice noodles, which makes for a good mixture of textures. The lime, herbs and chillies served on the side liven the flavours up a bit and if you still need more of a kick there are bottles of hot sauce on the tables. Vegetarian dishes include tofu with black bean sauce, which has an intense, almost spicy flavour that’s soaked up by the firm tofu. There’s a variety of more unusual dishes as well, including char grilled goat, stir fried frog’s legs and fried eel stuffed with pork – and as they’re only a few pounds you might give them a shot. Desserts aren't really Mien Tay's thing, although when you're presented with the bill you get an orange as well.
Although Mien Tay is primarily a BYO restaurant (with no corkage fee), they do serve a white, red and rose wine by the glass. For only £2 per glass you shouldn’t expect miracles, but the white is light and surprisingly drinkable, whilst the rose is delicate and fresh. There are also a few traditional Vietnamese juices on the menu, as well as sodas and Vietnamese coffee.
The Last Word
Although you’re pretty much spoilt for choice if you’re looking for Vietnamese restaurants on Kingsland Road, don’t pass Mien Tay by. If the food alone isn’t enough to get you to come back, the lovely service will have you wishing you lived next door.