The Vietnamese restaurants that have made Kingsland Road worth heading to are beginning to branch out. And this new Clapham location of the acclaimed Mien Tay will have Lavender Hill locals salivating with delight.
Located half way up Lavender Hill, it’s slightly more upmarket than Kingsland Road, but only marginally. The generic fast food establishments are instead replaced by shabby versions of the real thing, and the restaurant itself is inconveniently placed a decent - and not particularly exciting - walk away from the nearest station, the overground-only Clapham Junction. Once inside it’s the same simple yet perfectly comfortable decor as its Shoreditch sister, with paper tablecloths and unmatched wooden seating jazzed up by a lime green and white paint job, mirrors snaking the upper walls and the obligatory lucky cat smiling from the counter.
It’s not quite as manic as the Kingsland Road incarnation but one suspects that may be because Claphamites are yet to twig quite what they’ve got right on their doorstep. There’s still a fair few aficionados cooing over the food though, with plenty of others taking advantage of the takeaway facility, so expect to hear the door swinging open throughout your stay. There’s an amusingly bad soundtrack of elevator tunes that range from what sounds like the Baywatch theme as imagined by Santana, through to the more obscure reaches of the Phil Collins’ canon, but they’re all kept at a pleasingly low volume which soon gives way to animated conversation - especially when the food comes out. Service is an absolute delight – in fact it’s so friendly, helpful and smiley that you might miss them when you begrudgingly leave.
As with so many good quality Vietnamese restaurants, this is what Mien Tay is all about – sublime, authentic and fresh food served at almost scandalous prices. Starters are a deliciously appetising introduction to things, with fresh prawn rolls (sometimes known as summer rolls) a steal at £3.50 for four, with light and fluffy rice paper housing coriander, mint, vermicelli rice, lettuce, spring onion and a big juicy prawn, served with a rich and sweet peanut sauce. The fresh green papaya salad with dry spicy beef (£5.50) is also exquisite, with thinly shredded papaya, coriander, fresh chilli and red onion acting as refreshing companions to the immaculately seasoned strips of thin, crunchy beef and the peanut garnish.
Mains are every bit as impressive, and huge. The fried crispy sea bass (£10.00) is an absolute triumph, with the fish seasoned impeccably, rubbed with lemongrass and chilli, deep fried and served whole, head and all. More lemongrass, chilli and spring onion are served as a garnish, offering a vibrant, refreshing zest that balances the tempura batter and the light and fluffy fish to a perfect mix of sweet, sour and salt. The half roasted duck (£10.00) is similarly sublime, with lean meat given a deliciously crispy edge that’s been rubbed with salt, pepper and whisky to give it an almost earthy depth. A rich sauce uses these, star anise, soy sauce, garlic and five spice to give a sweet and aromatic complement to the tender, incredibly flavoursome duck.
It’s predominantly bring-your-own, so don’t expect a fancy wine list or exotic beers on draught. They can, however, knock up a very tasty sweetened coconut juice that’s a great palate cleanser, and can open a can of Coke very efficiently. One thing also worth trying is the traditional Vietnamese coffee made with condensed milk. It’s very good, but also so shockingly sweet that you get the impression they’re giving you just enough caffeine and sugar to make sure your legs can carry that overstretched belly all the way back to Clapham Junction. Which, given how exemplary the service is, wouldn’t be too mad a suggestion.
The Last Word
With East London foodies boring everybody with their incessant tributes to Kingsland Road, it’s now those very lucky Clapham folk who can gloat about having one of the best value restaurants in the capital right on their doorstep.