I love Vietnamese food, but it's a bit difficult to find it in the North. There's Little Saigon in Newcastle, Pho68 in Sheffield, Vnam Café in Manchester, and that's about it as far as I'm aware. I don't think there is a single Vietnamese restaurant in West Yorkshire. I'd love to be proven wrong here, so if anyone knows otherwise I'd love to hear from you.
I went to Vnam last summer and was a little underwhelmed, to the extent that I hadn't returned since. Someone kindly reminded me of its existence the other week and I thought I'd give it another shot. It wasn't bad before but I think things have definitely improved.
First up, Vietnamese style barbecued quail. Quails are not the strongest tasting birds, they aren't particularly gamey so benefit from livening up with plenty of spice and a good chargrilling. Most of the fun is to be had in gnawing the flesh from the bones caveman style. These were pretty good, not overcooked so the flesh remained moist. Dipped in salt and pepper with a good squeeze of lemon they were really enjoyable, although the skin would have benefitted from being a bit crispier.
And for the main event, Phở bò. This is the quintessential Vietnamese dish of beef noodle soup. The single most important thing in a good Phở is the beef stock used for the soup, it should have a real depth of flavour from long boiling of bones, and be aromatic with spices, particularly cinnamon and star anise. The stock base at Vnam was what really seems to have improved since my last visit, this really hit the spot whereas before it was weak and watery. The beef had plenty of flavour, but was cut into pieces too large to eat in one mouthful which made things a bit tricky.
The plate of greens and other accompaniments to add to your taste (I usually chuck the lot in) was also better than I remembered, with generous quantities of chilli, beansprouts, mint and coriander. Only a tiny wedge of lemon though, where a big chunk of lime would be better.
Vnam Café is well worth a visit, the food is good and it's cheap too. My meal came to £12.50 but I did choose the most expensive starter on the menu (£6 for the quail whereas summer rolls will only set you back £3). The staff are friendly too. It's a bit of a trek up Oldham Road from town, so why not combine a visit with a pint in the splendid Marble Arch round the corner.
140 Oldham Road