Har Gau


Saturday, 15 November 2008

Cafe East, Canada Water, London (and a random story before that)

Don't judge a restaurant by its tablecloth, or the lack of it.

Speaking of which, last Friday, my friends and I arranged to have dinner at Inn Noodle at Tottenham Court Road in London town centre. (This is a story that is in no way connected with the Cafe East review, by the way. It's just something that I haven't blogged about, and so I reckoned I'd tell it now).

I arrived early, so I stood outside the restaurant waiting for my friends to arrive. As I neared the restaurant, I noticed that the windows were all covered with newspapers and although there was a light coming out from the restaurant, it certainly wasn't what I'd called 'open for service'.

A notice on the window said something along the lines of how the hygiene inspectors found the place to be unsuitable for food purposes because there was an infestation of cockroaches and rats, no hot water for cleaning purposes, and how it was implicated in an outbreak of food poisoning. Some guy was inside the restaurant, cleaning up.

A friend who works near by says that it seems to be opened again. I won't be reviewing that restaurant.

Cafe East

Now we come to the actual review of Cafe East, which is a small little cafe-style restaurant (7 tables-small) near the McDonald's in Canada Water. It was recommended to me by a friend, and I've been there about 3 times since. We usually go on a Saturday afternoon, but it closes around 2pm so unless you like looking at other people eat from the other side of the window, best to get there before 1.30pm.

The menu consists of 2 laminated sheets of paper with colourful pictures of the food. The description is clear (if pictures of food don't quite work for you), and the prices are denominated in round figures (none of that £7.98 nonsense so favoured by fast-food restaurants).

The number of waiters/tresses there almost equal the number of customers sometimes, so service is fast. A guy puts the menu down, 5 mins later, someone else comes to take your order. 10 minutes later, food is here. If you want anything faster, McDonald's is just across the road.

There were 5 of us at the lunch, so we ordered 2 starters to be shared among us. This is Goi Cuon, a dish of prawn in rice paper roll with some vermicelli and fresh vegetables in the roll. It comes with a dipping sauce, and from research (because I like it so much), this sauce is called 'nuoc mam cham', or sometimes 'nuoc cham'. It's made with the Vietnamese fish sauce 'nuoc mam', which, from what I've seen, is only slightly different from the Thai fish sauce 'nam pla'.

It's mentioned on the menu that these rolls are made fresh to order, and they did taste very fresh. The roll itself doesn't taste of much, because the rice paper used in the wrapping has no taste, and neither do the prawns or vermicelli in the roll. When dipped into the nuoc cham sauce, however, the chewy roll absorbs the sweet, slightly spicy, slightly sour and garlic-infused taste of the sauce. It's a dish that is fresh, tasty and great in texture, all in one.

The next starter shared by the 5 of us (lean, mean) was the Vietnames version of the 'cheong fun', which is rice-flour 'noodles' with minced meat filling, served with beansprouts (raw?) and a nuoc cham dipping sauce (£4.30).

The difference between this and the Hong Kong version is that the Hong Kong version is usually served with a soy-sauce type sauce poured over it, with fillings of either prawn or char siu. The Hong Kong version is, again, totally different from the cheong fun served in other parts of South East Asia, especially Malaysia where there isn't usually any filling in the cheong fun. Instead, it's eaten with a bean-based sauce (or mushroom-based sauce, or curry sauce, etc.)

This is Bun Thit Nuong (£6), and from the descriptions I've read, it's vermicelli served with grilled pork and vegetables, with a nuoc cham sauce all mixed together. However, the one we had was with beef, so I'm not sure if it's called the same thing. The grilled pork or beef is so flavourful, slightly salty with a barbequed taste, honey-ish sweet, and so flavourful. When mixed with the nuoc cham, it's a refreshingly (because it's not hot) delicious one-bowl noodle.

This is what I ordered, vermicelli with spicy beef soup, with prawns and beef (£7). When I had a look on Wikipedia, a dish similar to this was called Bun bo Hue, but that dish didn't have any prawns in the description, so again, I'm not sure what this would be called. The spicy soup is not like curry-spicy or anything even remotely that spicy, it's probably more chilli-infused than spicy. The guy who took my order looked at me when I ordered, and he felt the need to say to me 'This is spicy'.

Perhaps he concluded that the description of spicy soup on the menu was not clear, or that I didn't look as if I could handle the spice. There is a choice of hor fun or vermicelli (which isn't similar to the Chinese style vermicelli) with this dish.

Most of the main dishes on the menu are priced between £6 to £7, and the starters are priced between £4 to £5. I'd recommend this cafe if you're somewhere near Canada Water, as it's probably one of the better Vietnamese restaurants within a 10 mile radius.

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