Viet­namese De­li­cious early prom­ise de­scends into the or­di­nary in a meal of two halves


WE’RE el­bow to el­bow, cheek to cheek, squeezed into a ta­ble that we nearly didn’t get – as I for­got which name I booked un­der. Please tell me you did book, Leo had texted from the restau­rant as the waiter was on the brink of show­ing him the door.

By the time Gor­don and I roll off Glas­gow’s Great West­ern Road into a wave of noise and ex­otic smells, wait­ers breath­ing in to get past ta­bles, food be­ing car­ried over sit­ting heads, the cri­sis is over. Yes, I re­mem­bered the name. Yes, Leo has a ta­ble be­side the front door. And, yes, they re­ally are so busy on a mid­week night that we would not have got in with­out that book­ing.

Within min­utes we’re caught up in an old-school menu rit­ual. It goes like this. I call out the dish we fancy, the waiter replies with the num­ber. Shak­ing beef? Num­ber 8. Rice pa­per rolls? Num­ber 2B. Salt and pep­per squid? Num­ber 10B. And so it pro­ceeds un­til we end with the siz­zling seafood. Num­ber 15, since you ask. And we nod when of­fered prawn crack­ers. They’ll come with their own num­ber. Num­ber £2, but we won’t re­alise that un­til we get the bill.

If Viet­namese is the new Chi­nese in Glas­gow then fresh­ness is the new fried. The meal sets off a crack­ling pace with sum­mer rolls of soft rice pa­per, ver­mi­celli, fresh basil and co­rian­der, punchy chilli, fish sauce and lime sauce, and sliv­ers of beef. Light, re­fresh­ing, yet unc­tu­ous.

And then we’re onto pork rolls, crispy this time, packed with rich meat, mint leaves served along­side, and an­other sweetly savoury tra­di­tional dip­ping sauce. This is food taken at a can­ter.

We chat, we nod at par­tic­u­lar flavours, hands criss-cross­ing across the ta­ble to lift food and now the shak­ing beef ar­rives.

If there’s ever an ex­am­ple needed of the ben­e­fits of a long, slow mari­nade, this is it. The meat is crisp, seared, carmelised on the out­side af­ter a fast toss round a hot wok, but in­side it’s supremely del­i­cate af­ter that soak in soy and gar­lic and prob­a­bly some sherry.

This may be a main­stream dish in Viet­namese restau­rants in the US, though ap­par­ently not cooked much in homes in Viet­nam, but when done well, as it is here, it’s a rev­e­la­tion. Chunk af­ter chunk dis­ap­pears be­fore we turn our at­ten­tion to In­do­chine beef, this time con­tain­ing sliv­ers of sir­loin. Tossed in a le­mon dress­ing, shal­lots, chilli, co­rian­der bind­ing the whole thing to­gether into a smooth tex­tured and, to me any­way, de­li­cious dish. Not so en­thu­si­as­tic thumbs up from oth­ers around the ta­ble.

If we press pause on the meal right now, pay up and leave, it would still have been a light, re­fresh­ing tri­umph. We don’t. We press on through a fairly or­di­nary salt and pep­per squid with lit­tle to dif­fer­en­ti­ate it from the same dish avail­able at restau­rants up and down this very city tonight.

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