180 Lavender Hill, Battersea SW11 5QT mientaybattersea.co.uk
You can’t blame a restaurant for its customers but by God the people downstairs in Mien Tay tonight are enough to make anyone blow a fuse. Why the women feel the need to scream constantly, instead of talking normally, is a mystery. Maybe because they are the 20 something Social Media Generation, unable to express any opinion without volume, exaggeration and me me me solipsism.
Anyway, trying to ignore the shattering noise they’re putting out in the no frills room, we try to enjoy the new dishes being showcased at this popular and well-rated sibling of Mien Tay in Shoreditch.
The deep-fried monkfish with salt, pepper and garlic is a bit of a twist on the more usual squid, and presumably more expensive to produce too. Monkfish used to be so cheap that it was used by disreputable restaurants in place of scampi, but now I imagine it costs far more. It was only the horrible head of monkfish that perhaps put off early adopters and kept the price low. You have to admire the first person that tried eating a monkfish.
This example is a bit oily, rushed to table a bit too quickly perhaps, and that oil is scalding when it comes out. Otherwise it’s good but would for me have benefitted from a thin salty dip to dunk it in. Slices of fiery red chilli are too much heat for some, but I find they make each morsel livelier.
Semi dried squid is a new one on me, its texture is thick but not tough and with a sweetish flavour. It’s’interesting’ as they say. The sweet and sour dipping sauce with it is shop-bought I suspect, there’s a very high sugar content overpowering the other flavours which is a shame.
Would I order semi-dried squid again? I’m not sure as I only semi enjoyed it, but it’s good to see a restaurant breaking away from the usual menu items and presumably this is a well-known dish in South West Vietnam where Mien Tay’s owners come from.
I liked the squid and kohlrabi salad that followed though very much, the salty crunch of the kohlrabi, marinated, I think, in fish sauce and plated along with crinkle cut carrot strips, was a good foil to the squid. Served at room temperature the dish had all the flavours and textures I associate with Vietnamese food. And kohlrabi was a nice surprise, this relative to cabbage, which forms a bulb above ground, is something I grow at my allotment but rarely see in the shops. I’ll have to try serving it this way now.
Pomelo salad with chicken and prawns was prettily served in a hollowed out pomelo. This bowling ball sized citrus fruit yields tasty Ã¢â‚¬Å“vesiclesÃ¢â‚¬Â of fruit that are resilient enough to take being tossed in a salad without breaking or leaking. This allows them to burst instead in the mouth.
That burst against the spice is good thing, but the chicken itself was a bit bland I felt and prawns, well prawns I find seldom taste of much. I did like the crushed nuts though, and that’s not a comment on the hardness of the simple chairs.
The best of the new dishes by a mile was the stewed snakehead fish. It’s not a pretty name and it’s even called Frankenfish in North America, but apparently chef had been up at 3 am to go and buy it at market. Googling revealed this fish, freshwater, can actually breathe air and so can cross land to migrate to new rivers by walking on its fins. I rather wish I hadn’t Googled that, to be quite honest.
Anyway it was very good fish, firm and little buttery and the sauce around it delicious – fiery hot, oily, viscous, rich and complex. A definite winner this one.
As too was the poussin that followed although I find a poussin on the plate rather a sad sight to be honest, it makes me feel a bit guilty in a rather ill defined way. This had been marinated in honey and herbs and then given a taste of the hot grill.
This produced superb grill flavours that I find far superior to those derived from smoking meats, the current restaurant rage, it’s subtler and less like licking out an ashtray. A bird this tiny needs picking up and chewing to the bone to get every last, lovely bit, so I did.
Co- Owner and head chef Su Tran emerged from his kitchen to answer questions on the new dishes and tell us some more about them, but was sadly inaudible as the women at the table behind were now having what sounded like full on nervous breakdowns He seemed a very nice man, though.
Mien Tay is to be commended for not resting on its laurels and the rather gushy reviews it’s been receiving from all and sundry. These new dishes were well up to standard and I’d be happy try them all again, when the noise level has dropped post-Xmas.