Dinner for 1: £10.80
Met friends of a friend for drinks at a very pubby pub – The Owl and The Pussycat – in Shoreditch one night after work and had a lovely time. However around 9pm when it became clear to me that drinks would not be evolving into food of any kind I decided to strike out on my own to forage for a meal. I had a specific Vietnamese restaurant in mind Au Lac – recommended by Londonelicious which was walkable from the pub.
On my way up Kingsland road I recognized the atrocious green tables in a different Vietnamese restaurant that belonged to a place I had gone to with a group of then acquaintances – now friends – when I first started spending half of my life in London. I remembered that I had enjoyed that meal – but I was determined to try Au Lac because it had been well reviewed by Londonelicious.
I couldn’t find it. There is a Vietnamese restaurant of a different name at the address I had jotted down and since the only thing I knew about it was that it was where Au Lac should have been – I decided to pop back down the street to the place with the terrible green tables since I remembered that I had enjoyed my previous meal there.
It was going on 9:30 when I arrived so I had almost the entire place to myself save for a group of friends – I am guessing old college friends who have now aged some, getting together to tell hilarious stories about themselves when they were younger. I sat facing away from them so as not to be too obvious about eavesdropping.
Aside from the ungodly green of the tables there is nothing else concerning about the interior. Simple standard Vietnamese restaurant decor with some interesting photographs of Vietnam on the walls.
Not really in the mood to have to do any work with my food I ruled out anything that required me to roll my own meal in rice paper or anything. I decided to keep it simple.
I started with Banh Tom – sweet potato and prawn cake. I’d never seen sweet potato on a Vietnamese menu before, which really should have set off an alarm in my head I now realize. I imagined something akin to Ban Xeo – a crepe like item. What arrived was terribly disappointing. A.) can you see a prawn in there? I found 1 prawn in there and that was after some serious excavation. B.) what makes that a cake? What it is is a flavorless mess of soggy sweet potato fries.
My main also let me down. I ordered Bun Bo Ha Noi – Beef with rice noodles. I am a big fan of Bun. I order different variations of it often and though the dish itself does not immediately seem like it would be complicated to pull off – a little meat, some rice noodles, fresh herbs and vegetables, nuoc mam – its pretty easy to mess up.
The first way to mess this up is to have poorly seasoned, sloppily prepared beef – which was in abundance here. The second way is to have wilted veggies and scant amounts of herbs. If you look closely in the photo you can see a few orphan sprigs of cilantro (coriander). No mint or basil to be found anywhere. I had to drown the entire dish in Siracha chili sauce to provide anything approaching flavor and this is after I had tipped an entire dish of nuoc mam into it. My overall perception of the meal was that it was cooked without any care. I could not detect any effort in it and I just hate paying for that kind of experience.
While eating I remembered that when I’d arrived here the first time I was exceptionally drunk. So drunk that when we left after the meal I walked out into the pouring rain having left my umbrella sitting on the table. I clearly had my beer goggles on that night.
Book I was reading: The O. Henry Prize Short Stories 2008
98 Kingsland Rd
London, E2 8DP