Not too long ago, the thought of moving to Clapham Junction filled me with horror. I thought this patch of sarf London was horribly bland, twee and borderline suburban; a painfully uncool, soulless “Nappy Valley” ringing with the sound of buggies clashing in cafes.
Although my father still refers to my new ‘hood as “the wrong side of the river”, in the couple of years I’ve lived here I have gradually, begrudgingly accepted that it’s not all bad.
The main thing which redeemed Clappy J in my mind was Mien Tay, a local restaurant which produces consistently great, authentic Vietnamese food.
From the outside it’s rather shabby, with dog-eared clippings of reviews in the window (a particularly glowing AA Gill number is one of the reasons the place is packed day and night, seven days a week). The interior decor doesn’t improve much; there is an incongruous shamble of filing cabinets and mismatched chairs as soon as you enter, where you must wait to be seated. The tables are peculiar glass-topped things which display miniature garden scenes and doll-like furniture. Best of all are the luminous green tunics worn by the staff. If the food wasn’t so good, these details would I’m sure add to the restaurant’s awfulness. But because it’s so good, they add to the charm!
I do think Mien Tay was probably better a couple of years ago, back when you were able to BYO booze, but it’s still a failsafe option for a reliably delicious and cheap meal out. Typically I’m there a couple of times a month; during one ridiculous six week period when Mark and I had no fridge (it’s a long story which will only end up with a rant against John Lewis, so don’t get me started), we were at Mien Tay two or three times a week.
Here are some snaps from my last few visits.
Green papaya salad with dry spicy beef. My favourite starter…
…although occasionally I like to ring the changes with green papaya salad with fat, juicy prawns
One of Mien Tay’s signature dishes, chargrilled quail with honey, garlic and spices. Yes, that is a little dish of MSG on the side. I told you it was authentic Vietnamese!
Vietnamese style spring rolls – so good wrapped up in lettuce leaves and herbs and dunked into the dipping sauce.
No Vietnamese meal is complete without pho noodle soup, the national dish and the “soul of the nation”. Served with a thicket of fresh herbs on the side, to add as you eat.
Whole crispy fried sea bream with fish sauce and mango
Stir fried morning glory with garlic. Took me right back to Hoi An.
No frills, so no dessert option – just some orange segments to refresh the palate, served as you realise the coins in your purse don’t quite cover the cash-only bill and you need to nip down the road to the cashpoint.
Mien Tay would be a success in any part of town (they have an equally popular sister restaurant in the much edgier neighbourhood of Shoreditch) but situated on the otherwise lacklustre Lavender Hill, it’s a true local gem.