Dining Out with Durnford
By: Amanda Durnford
Located across from Kellogg’s, there is a tiny locale serving up some tasty dishes. Many of you living in the surrounding area may be well aware of Vietnam Restaurant. After one visit, I can tell you I’ve become a new regular patron.
First time goers may find the menu kind of intimidating with more than 100 items, each listed in Vietnamese. For those of us not so proficient in the language, there is a description in English. I do recommend that you have a good look over the menu. It gives you a lot of appealing choices and for “foodies” like me, there are out-of-the-ordinary combinations of flavors and tastes. Vietnamese cuisine uses vegetables, lemon grass, fish sauce, and Soya extensively. Some of their more popular dishes include pho, which is essentially a beef broth-based soup. This dish may come with brisket, rare beef or beef balls, and if you like, all three. I love to see a lot of different sauces and garnishes. As a diner, it gives you the opportunity to try dishes in different ways. Vietnamese cuisine falls right in line with this idea.
My party and I arrived and were warmly greeted and promptly served tea. We sipped our tea and spent a fair amount of time deciding on what to order. After much contemplation and a little help from the “picture menu” provided, we ordered our meals. I’m a big fan of spring rolls and every Asian cuisine boasts some variety. Vietnam Restaurant offers them prepared several ways but I decided to have the fresh variety. The rice paper wrap was filled with pork, shrimp, and Chinese cabbage and served with a hoisin and peanut sauce. It was fresh-tasting with a good, crunchy texture.
As for our main dishes, I chose the vermicelli (rice noodle) bowl with barbecue pork, served with a spicy fish sauce. Many people may be somewhat leery of this type of sauce and I have to admin it has a rather strong smell on its own. But the taste is remarkable and I encourage all to give it a try. The menu also has a selection of house specialties and there is one dish in particular that is going to keep me coming back. The beef wrapped in “lop” leaf is a must-have for me. The seasoned beef is fried and accompanied by mint, bean sprouts and lettuce. The mint makes this dish very refreshing and there is a nice balance in terms of spice and crunch.
The dishes are less expensive than other Asian restaurants I’ve been to, and you can have brilliant food and a beer for less than $15. There is also a large take-out menu available for pick up only and the restaurant is LLBO-licensed, offering the typical imported and domestic beers.
The Vietnam Restaurant opened in 1994 and has been awarded two London Free Press awards. Although the restaurant has very little in the way of decorations and it’s not a restaurant I would describe as beautiful, the food is what keeps the customers coming back.
At the Plate
By: Paul Berton
Experience not to be missed at Vietnam Restaurant
From the minute you walk in, the Vietnam Restaurant lives up to its billing as “real Vietnamese Cuisine.” The room is Spartan, with only a few Asian decorations and a large photograph of a pristine South Cine Sea beach.
The décor says the place takes its food seriously – that money is spent on what’s on the plate, and not what’s under it.
And what’s on the plate is marvel. For the Vietnam does nothing if not take its food seriously. It’s authentic, and as London restaurants go, it’s unique.
For starters, cha gio ($3) translates into English as egg roll, but that doesn’t do justice to these tiny delicacies. They arrive hot, ready to be wrapped in a lettuce leaf, dipped in a lime/carrot sauce and savored.
Another appetizer, goi cuon ($3) is eaten ice cold. Rice paper surrounds noodles, shrimp, pork, lettuce, mint and an Asian version of basil, making this finger food easy to dip in a thick sauce of peanuts and Soya – and another explosion of flavors.
Vietnam is not the first Vietnamese restaurant in London, but it’s the first one that appears to have a chance at survival.
Ngo Duc Long, who came to Canada 12 years ago and to London eight years ago, was in the auto parts business before he opened the Vietnam with his wife, who cooks all the meals.
Like the Thais and a few regions of China, the Vietnamese reply on a riot of different tastes and textures to produce their most impressive dishes – hot and cold, sweet and sour, spicy and sour, spicy and sweet, crunchy and slithery, chewy and crispy, wet and dry. It’s the contrasts that make the food so much fun, not just for the taste-buds, but for the eyes, the nose, and even the ears.
But the Vietnam also requires work and a diner prepared to make a little effort at the table.
Hu tieu tom cua ($4.95), a beef-noodle soup, requires that bean sprouts and other herbs and two sauces be added just before the spoon hits the lips.
Bo la lot, or beef in aromatic lot leaf ($8.95), comes on three plates: a table of lettuce leaves, shredded turnip, sliced cucumber and chopped carrot; a plate of beef rolls wrapped in an exotic-smelling green leaf, and a stack of rice paper to wrap it in before dipping in sauce and consuming without a spill.
Other more traditional dishes, such as fried salted shrimp ($9.95), deep-fried while prawns in a light, salted better, are in some Chinese restaurants, but aren’t nearly as good.
The menu is extensive. There are enough noodle, rice and soup dishes and a lit of chef’s specials, to keep you guessing, as well as hot pit, seafood dishes, chicken, and pork. Mango, jack fruit, avocado and even durian shakes are available, as are other exotic beverages.
Don’t be intimidated by the menu or the hands-on approach: Long will gladly guide you through.
Paul Berton is a senior copy editor at The Free Press.