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Monday, 7 March 2011
My first experience of Mien Tay was at their Battersea branch on Lavender Hill. Bibendum Wines had devised a fantastic wine list for the restaurant and invited a few food and wine bloggers to try their pairings. The food was exceptional and so were the wines, but unfortunately Mien Tay is still trying to obtain its alcohol licence.
The Shoreditch branch is also a BYO attracting a young, hip crowd after a cheap night out. The restaurant is poorly decorated in lime green colours, dusty plastic plants and flowers, and the furniture, a mix of mismatched tables and chairs in wicker and glass, is tired and greasy. Tables are densely packed, and if you happen to be seated by a feuding couple (as Dr G and I were on this occasion) you will just need to grin and bear it.
The menu is extensive and choices are mind boggling. I am always a bit concerned when I see hugely varied menu choices like this. It sometimes indicates a lack of focus and makes me question the freshness of the ingredients.
After much deliberation, Dr G and I started with a portion of "Salt, Pepper and Garlic Squid" @ £6. The squid was deliciously crisp and well seasoned but was slightly overcooked and on the chewy side.
The "Chargrilled Quail with Honey, Garlic and Spices" @ £4.80 that followed was a much better dish. The caramelised honey on the chargrilled skin intensified the sweetness of the meat, which tasted of cinnamon and star-anise - a sensational dish.
Mien Tay's "Rice Vermicelli with Spring Rolls and Pork Bun" @ £6 was another winner. The pork was nicely grilled, and tasted delicious with the combination of spring rolls, salad, fresh herbs and just the right amount of rice noodles. The balance of these components was unimprovably good. One of the best "buns" I have had for a long time.
The "Crispy Fried Sea Bass with Lemongrass and Chilli" @ £10 was impressively large but sadly disappointing. The delicious, vibrant seasoning could not compensate for the poor quality of the flesh - it tasted dull and had a texture akin to previously frozen fish.
One of their signature dishes is the "Stir Fried Goat Galangal" @ £6.50. With a lightly curried coconut sauce, the meat was finely sliced and served with onions and fresh herbs. This was a delicious dish, nicely accompanied by Vietnamese " Steamed Rice" @ £2.
In my opinion, the star of the evening was "Mien Tay's Crispy Chicken with Fish Sauce" @ £5. Folds of chicken skin deep fried until crisp in a sweet shallot and fish sauce, this somewhat unlikely sounding dish was utterly delectable.
Overall our experience at Mien Tay Shoreditch was mixed. We tried some excellent dishes, but others were disappointing. The restaurant lacks atmosphere, service is rushed and impersonal, and the general state of upkeep is poor. For example, as we were finishing our meal, large buckets brimming with dirty plates, chopsticks and refuse were taken past our table to the adjoining restaurant which shares the same kitchen.
Cost: the total cost for the above dishes was £40.30 (not including BYO wine). There was enough to feed 4 people, so I estimate that £10-£15 would be sufficient per head. Potentially good value for money.
Likes: possibly the only BYO option on Kingsland Road. Mien Tay's crispy chicken with fish sauce and the chargrilled quail with honey, garlic and spices were excellent. Inexpensive.
Dislikes: the decor and general upkeep need to be looked at. Patchy cooking - excellent at best let down by mediocre parts.
Verdict: Cheap and cheerful Vietnamese restaurant on Kingsland Road. Some excellent dishes, but patchy standards overall. Given the number of restaurants on Kingsland Road serving food of similar or better standards in more agreeable environments, Mien Tay needs to up its game in my opinion.