Saigon Cafe – Catford, SE6

Vietnamese cafe with bring your own booze in upcoming Catford, South East London

While Saigon Foods cafe has a ‘bring your own booze’ policy (as they’re not licensed to serve alcohol) that keeps costs down, we chose to ‘take-away’ the other evening after work, and relax at home.


Summer rolls – rice paper wraps two rolls @ £4.00


Bo la lot – grilled beef in leaves with rice noodles and salad @ £7.85
Bo la lot – minced beef filling


We ordered summer rolls – rice paper wraps with rice vermicelli, lettuce and herbs with a peanut sauce, Vietnamese spring rolls (pork and prawn rolls which were unfortunately omitted), bo la lot minced beef in betel leaves (vine leaves) with rice vermicelli, mixed salad, Vietnamese dressing with chillis and peanuts (the beef leaves and sauce were very tasty), and a chicken pho – flat rice noodles in broth served with fresh vegetables, herbs and seasoning sauces (very healthy although – aside from the aromatic basil leaves – slightly lacking in flavour).
Chicken pho – rice noodles in Vietnamese broth @ £7.85
This was a healthy meal made from fresh ingredients – plenty enough for two – and really good value given I had change out of £20.00! I can imagine that this food would taste even better served fresh in the restaurant and intend to visit again soon.


Inside Saigon Foods cafe


Menu at Saigon Foods cafe, Catford


The verdict: Cheap, cheerful and healthy. And something a bit different for Catford.


Restaurant info:
~ Lardbutty rating: 3 / 5
~ Type: Vietnamese, BYOB
~ Address: 24 Catford Broadway, London
~ Postcode: SE6 4SN
~ Nearest stations: Catford Bridge, Catford
~ Website + menus: Saigon Cafe website
~ Photos on flickr: images of Saigon Cafe
~ Location: Saigon Cafe map


Saigon Foods Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Pho – Vietnamese Spitalfields

“Pho Spitalfields is situated in an old rickety three-floored house minutes from Liverpool St Station, Brick Lane and the markets. The uneven lines of this building reminded us very much of the old houses of Hanoi home to many a restaurant. Check out the first floor for a more cosy room and takeaway counter” – so says the fitting description of Pho Spitalfields on their website (here).

One of eleven branches (as of May 2014), the Spitalfields restaurant is indeed in a rickety, quaint old building, with a cosy first floor containing small wooden tables and chairs reminiscent of an old village Sunday School.


Three mushroom phở – enoki, shiitake and button


We’d booked in advance for this Friday lunchtime visit. Every table was taken and there was a queue at the door. There was a rapid turnover of take-away orders too.

I ordered phở nấm rơm (three mushroom pho or rice noodle soup) – enoki, shiitake and button mushrooms @ £7.95, served with a separate plate of fresh herbs to add to your own taste. The pho is made from stock that apparently takes 12 hours to prepare, so it’s bursting with flavour. And only the highest quality ingredients are used, fresh every day. While that all sounds nice and healthy, the pho is served in a generously sized bowl and is incredibly filling.


IMG_2360_pho xao chicken prawn
Phở xào chicken + prawn @ £8.75 – flat rice noodles


The phở xào chicken and prawn dish was an arrangement of wok-fried flat rice noodles with lemongrass, chilli, mange tout and Asian greens, beansprouts, sprinkled with crushed peanuts and served with nước chấm (spicy dipping sauce) @ £8.75.

Another in our party had tiger prawn bún, or vermicelli rice noodles with a lemongrass and chilli wok-fried topping, served with fresh herbs, beansprouts, veggie spring roll and peanuts @ £9.25.

Our total lunchtime bill for six people came to £72.23 including service (about £12.00 each) – very reasonable.

Bill for 6 people 

Pho restaurant Spitalfields


More of the menu:

IMG_2357_baby squid starter
Baby squid starter @ £6.50


IMG_4290_crepe tofu starter
Crepe tofu starter – create your own in rice paper @ £7.50


IMG_2358_pho house
Pho House Special @ £10.50 – tiger prawns, tofu + flash fried steak with garlic in beef stock


Bun noodles (vermicelli rice noodles) with veggie spring rolls @ £8.25


Pho xao (flat rice noodles) with lemongrass, chilli + Asian greens and chicken and prawns @ £8.95


Restaurant info:
~ Lardbutty rating: 4 / 5
~ Type: Vietnamese
~ Address: 48 Brushfield Street, Spitalfields [& more locations]
~ Postcode: E1 6AG
~ Tel: 020 020 7377 6436
~ Nearest stations: Shoreditch High Street, Liverpool Street, Aldgate East, Aldgate
~ Website + menus: Pho website
~ Photos on flickr: images of Pho food
~ facebook page: Pho on fb
~ Location: Pho Spitalfields map



More City/East End dining:
~ Byron – proper burgers, everywhere
~ Japanese Canteen – around the City
~ Mama Thai – Indian + Thai take-away curries + noodles
~ Momo’wich – outstanding Thai + Malaysian
~ Pizza Union – artisan pizza
~ Poppies – fab fish + chips, East End
Pho on Urbanspoon

Banana Tree – Clapham Junction

Last night I went to Banana Tree at Clapham Junction for the first time in a few years, to meet a couple of old friends. And was pleased to find it’s as great as it always was.

You can only book tables for parties of seven or more, so we arrived fairly early (7.30pm) as it was a Saturday night. We were seated straight away and the restaurant filled up quickly.

We started with a bottle of Italian Pinot Grigio Garganega Nova @ £16.95 while reading the Asian fusion menu (great mix of Thai, Vietnamese, Malay dishes).

For starters we shared chicken and shitake moneybags – crispy chicken and shitake mushroom stuffed parcels served with chilli sauce @ £4.90, and kau chi dumplings – handmade pork and prawn dumplings with aged vinegar + garlic sauce @ £4.60. Both were really tasty (even if the dumplings looked a bit deflated).

Chicken shitake moneybags

Kau chi dumplings

For main course, H and G both had chilli, ginger and basil stir fry with prawns – fresh and aromatic stir fry, with cloud ear and shitake mushrooms, peppers and spring onions in Siamese yellow bean sauce @ £8.40 and steamed Jasmine rice @ £2.50.

Prawn stir fry and Pinot Grigio

I had seafood kari santan melayu – tiger prawns, tilapia fish fillets and fishcakes gently cooked in a traditional Malaysian blended red curry paste @ £8.90 (lots of deep, contrasting and complementary flavours – simply gorgeous).

Seafood red curry

Our total bill for three people (for three bottles of pinot grigio, two starters, three mains, and sides of rice and noodles) came to about £100 which included a tip. At £34 each, this seemed very reasonably priced for such great food.

Open plan kitchen + restaurant bench tables

Restaurant info:
~ Lardbutty rating: 4 / 5
~ Type: IndoChinese, Asian fusion
~ Address: 75-79 Battersea Rise, London
~ Postcode: SW11 1HN
~ Tel: 020 7228 2828
~ e: (bookings only for parties of 7 or more)
~ Nearest station: Clapham Junction
~ Website + menus: Banana Tree website
~ Photos on flickr images of Banana Tree food
~ Location: Banana Tree Clapham Junction map


More nearby dining:

~ Nancy Lam’s Enak Enak – *best* restaurant on Lavender Hill (Indonesian / SE Asian fusion)

~ Noiya – Indian restaurant on Lavender Hill

Banana Tree on Urbanspoon



Cây Tre Soho – Vietnamese café on Dean Street

Inside Cây Tre on Dean Street, Soho

Cây Tre, a Vietnamese café on Dean Street, Soho, is a weird and wonderful experience.

The decor is somewhat reminiscent of a classy eel and pie shop with its white tiled walls and fairly basic chairs and tables. It’s a long, narrow restaurant so even when it’s not packed it feels busy, as customers and waiters have to shuffle past you in the narrow gangway between tables.

It’s just the kind of place to go for a quick meal during a mid-afternoon shopping spree but probably not somewhere to go for a long, cosy, get-settled-in type of evening meal.

We popped in while Christmas shopping recently. Our waitress helped us with the menu and we chose a few dishes to share.

Chaû caù Laõ Voïng or La Vong Grilled Fish, cooked at the table @ £7 per person

My favourite was the Chaû caù Laõ Voïng or La Vong grilled monkfish marinated with galangal and turmeric, cooked at the table, and served with a Vietnamese dipping sauce (nuoc cham). K wasn’t a fan of all the feathery green vegetation swamping the monkfish but I really enjoyed it, with its refreshing, crisp and cleansing (something Alpine-like?) taste.

There’s a surprisingly impressive selection of drinks too: I had a glass of prosecco @ £6 while K had a St Mungo beer @ £4.50 (really lovely, malty beer brewed in Glasgow by independent brewery, WEST, the first UK brewery to produce its beers in accordance with the Reinheitsgebot, or the ‘German Purity Law’ using four core ingredients only: water, malt, hops and yeast, and no artificial additives, colouring or preservatives).

Vietnamese dishes paired with St Mungo lager

I’m not sure which part of ‘simmered fish caramelised in anchovy fish sauce’ initially appealed to us but the Mekong Catfish was fishy fish overdose. Squared.

Vietnamese dishes, l to r:
~ Caù kho toä – Claypot simmered Mekong Catfish caramelised in anchovy fish sauce @ £10
~ Kim chi – with pickled ginger, side veg dish @ £4.50
~ Toâm xaøo su su – Red Sea Prawns with Choucho stir-fried with oyster sauce, black pepper + Vietnamese herbs @ £11

All in all, an interesting and different experience – I particularly enjoyed having the monkfish cooked right in front of us on our table and served straight from the pan. And trying new vegetables – flavours that I couldn’t previously have dreamed up (like the cucumbery ‘choucho’ served with prawns).

But it’s nothing amazing and it’s not in the same league as Mien Tay.

Restaurant info:
~ Lardbutty rating: 3 / 5
~ Type: Vietnamese
~ Address: 43 Dean Street, Soho, London
~ Postcode: W1D 4QD
~ Tel: 020 7317 9118
~ Nearest tube station: Oxford Circus, Leicester Square, Piccadilly
~ Website: Cây Tre Soho website
Menu: Cây Tre menu
~ Location: Cây Tre Soho map

Cay Tre Soho on Urbanspoon

Mien Tay – cheap n cheerful

*Update 2013* (pending)
This restaurant is hit and miss but worth a try. I ate here in August 2013 (2.5 years since the last time) and it was nowhere near as good as on previous occasions in 2011. Squid was disgustingly chewy and rubbery (so badly over cooked), service was terrible (some people walked out in the queue in front of us – though everyone in queue had booked a table), and sitting downstairs was totally unappealing on this hot summer’s eve….basement toilet problems? (full update pending. LardButty review is 3 / 5 in 2013). It’s no longer BYOB but the wine selection is good and very reasonably priced. Good but not that good.

Lardbutty Vietnamese restaurant of the decade
Crispy sea bream with lemongrass and chilli @ £9.50

Ok, it’s the first Vietnamese restaurant I’ve been to, and I do intend to go to Vietnam so this may be a little hasty and subject to change (given it’s the start of the decade) but Mien Tay in Battersea is seriously good.

My Wednesday evening pilates class isn’t on this week due to the half-term holiday, so a couple of us decided to stretch our stomachs in a different way… by visiting a local Vietnamese restaurant instead.

We turned up to a packed restaurant at 7:30pm having booked a table for two well in advance. We were tagged on to the end of a table for four (proximity of Wagamama’s benches) but it wasn’t uncomfortable. Despite being busy and with a good buzz of noise, there was still a good level of privacy (good accoustics – I didn’t hear a word of our neighbours’ conversation).

But less of the buzz and more of the food.

It’s unbelievably cheap: £8-odd for a bottle of pinot grigio or £2-odd for a glass was the first thing that jumped out at me from the menu. While they do have a license to serve alcohol, you can – at the moment – bring your own bottle (surprisingly no corkage fee either, although they say this bonus will be discontinued at some point).

This is not an expensive restaurant, so I was prepared for it to be cheap, cheerful and perhaps slightly sub-standard. Not so.

For starters we shared:
~ chicken satay @ £6 (intensely nutty sauce, excellent)
~ salt and peppered squid @ £6.00 (in a light, crispy batter – no grease in sight)
~ chargrilled prawn wrapped around sugar-cane @ £6.00 (fabulous – the sugar-cane wasn’t sweet as you might expect, I’ll home in on this next time)

Chargrilled prawn wrapped around sugarcane, starter @ £6.00

chicken satay starter @ £6.00

Vietnamese prawn curry served in a clay pot @ £8.00 – who knew curry could have such depth of flavour?

side vegetables

For our main courses we had prawn curry in a clay pot and sea bream, both with steamed rice and a side of mixed vegetables (including bok choy, mushrooms, etc) which were exceptional.

As for the sea bream @ £9.50, I was probably expecting a filleted portion not the entire fish at that price (see top). I’ve had something similar at one of Rick Stein’s restaurants in Padstow at more than double the price and it was in no way better than this.

Mien Tay is one of the best restaurants in the Lavender Hill area (along with Nancy Lam’s Enak Enak and Santa Maria del Sur, if somewhat more down-to-earth in style). We ate leisurely noticing that the turnover of other tables was fairly speedy. It’s cash only and you do need to book in advance. Go on – call 020 7350 0721.


I visited Mien Tay Battersea again, Saturday night, 5th March 2011. Again, it was very busy with a swift turnover of tables, good service and food was simply brilliant.

1/4 crispy aromatic duck with hoi sin sauce and pancakes @ £7.00

tofu starter – too much garlic and coriander

goat with galangal

This was my first time eating goat. I expected it to be similar to sheep (lamb/ mutton) but it was more like beef and absolutely gorgeous too in a slightly creamy, nutty, curry sauce.

Restaurant info:
~ Lardbutty rating: 4 / 5 (2011); 3 / 5 (2013)
~ Type: Vietnamese
~ Address: 180 Lavender Hill, Battersea, London
~ Postcode: SW11 5TQ
~ Tel: 020 7350 0721
~ Nearest train station: Clapham Junction
~ Website + menus: Mien Tay Battersea website
~ Location: Mien Tay Battersea map

Mien Tay on Urbanspoon