Category Archives: Reviews

Review: Thu Do Vietnamese – A Contendor to Cafe East’s Crown?

Face Judgement: Yay! It was great!

Thu Do Vietnamese Restaurant

237 Lower Road, Surray Quays

London SE16 2LW

Alex and I have a little guilty pleasure.

Whilst there is no shortage of good food in Borough, there is a shortage of cinemas. And, sometimes, when it is mid-week and we feel lazy and fragile, we like to go to the cinema and also to eat.

Sadly, in many areas of London, good food and the cinema is not compatible. Of course, there are lots of amazing boutique and art-house cinemas which offer great food and clever films, but I am not talking highbrow viewing.

No, I’m talking the full Cineworld / Odeon / whatever blockbuster experience; lots of surround sound, flashing lights, large chairs with cup holders for three-pint paper cups of fizzy drinks, and sticky carpets.

It was in a car park next to Surrey Quays Odeon – just next to Canada Water tube and thus a short hop from London Bridge – that we found our usual haunt and haven’t looked back since; the frankly amazing Vietnamese restaurant, Café East. We have spent many happy evenings stuffing ourselves to the brim with Pho there and then waddling over to the Odeon, smugly swerving away from the popcorn counter.

One of Alex’s brothers, Charles, is currently living with us whilst he finds a flat in London, so last night we decided to take him to the cinema, and introduce him to the delights of Village East.

Oh, cruel world. We had elected to go on Tuesday, because usually we go on Wednesday and forget the monstrosity to non-Orange customers that is Orange Wednesdays, and encounter a packed cinema and even more packed Village East. But, this time, we had really dropped the ball.

Upon arrival at Village East, we quickly realised that the lights were off and it was eerily quiet. Turns out Village East is closed on Tuesdays. Noooooo!

In a big fat panic, I cast my mind back, and remembered that we had once eaten at a rather good Vietnamese restaurant just around the corner, on Lower Road. As a last-ditch effort to save our Viet and Cinema evening, and with a good hour to go before the film started, we decided to give it a go.

A pleasant, just-over-five-minute stroll took us to Lower Road, where, at number 237, in a slightly unprepossessing location surrounded by lots of Estate Agents, we found Thu Do.

It’s a sweet-looking little place: tiny inside, and surrounded by an adorable wooden picket fence outside with tables and chairs for smokers and cold-bravers.

Please forgive the picture quality; it was rather dark!

Upon entering, we found a fairly empty restaurant with one local Vietnamese couple eating their supper quietly in the corner.

The extremely sweet owner then noticed us and bustled out of the kitchen, asked us to sit wherever we liked and gave us the menu.

This place is a proper husband-and-wife team effort. It is a family restaurant; the cooking is done by the wife, and the husband serves. Do not come here if you are looking for a very smart restaurant; whilst the décor is pleasant enough and the place is clean, the interior is not anything special.

The food, however, is.

To start, I ordered one of my favourite things; Vietnamese Summer Rolls, or gỏi cuốn. These were absolutely outstanding. Really fresh, perfectly at room temperature, with a generous amount of filling, juicy prawns, fresh coriander and rice vermicelli.

I also noticed the addition of tiny, weeny strips of seasoned egg in these; I have never had this in a summer roll before, but it worked beautifully!

The boys, feeling less healthy, asked for Chicken Wings and Crispy Fried Squid. Alex is really particular about his chicken wings; he pronounced these really, really good, and certainly as good as any we used to have in Asia.

Fried to a crisp and coated in just the right amount of Shrimp Paste, these came with a scattering of tine, gloriously flavoursome pieces of onion.

Yum.

The squid was just as good; searingly hot, sublimely fresh, wonderfully light and crispy, perfectly flavoured and not at all rubbery.

But it was the Pho that really stole the show, for me at least. Charles and I went for Chicken Pho (phở gà) and Alex went for Beef (phở bò).

It was, for me, perfect Pho; clean, really fresh, beautifully flavoured stock, homemade rice noodles (and the chicken is organic, which is amazing at these prices).

Alex’s beef was very good, but whilst I preferred the Thu Do Chicken Pho, Alex preferred Café East’s Beef Pho, as he said the soup was just a little better flavoured. So, there we go – one win for each restaurant.

In closing, there were three things I really loved about Thu Do.

Firstly, the food. It was genuinely – and somewhat surprisingly – fantastic.

Secondly, the atmosphere. Café East is more of a canteen-style place and I do not mind that in the slightest. But, here, it is a very personal affair; the husband and wife team seem genuinely delighted to have you in their restaurant, and the service is so attentive and sweet.

Thirdly, the price: It was amazing. The boys drank beer, I drank diet coke, we are until we were stuffed, and out bill came to, in total, £44.00. You really can’t say fairer than that.

See you tomorrow!

Love,

Jessy xxx

PS: If you go, here’s a tip: Ask for chopsticks if you prefer them, as the gentleman owner seems to usually give Westerners a spoon and fork.

PPS: We went to see Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy. It was awesome!

Thu Do: Scores on the Board

Food: 9/10

Atmosphere: 7/10

Service: 10/10

Value: 10/10

Because they have NO INTERNET PRESENCE AT ALL – like, no reviews, no website, no nothing, not even a phone number (this is kind of cool; feels like a real hidden gem!) I thought i’d give you a map:

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Heaven Is Shaped Like A Meringue

Well, hello! I am back from holiday, over the jetlag, and feeling like a happy bunny. Who knew London could enjoy such gorgeous weather in October? (And the last laugh is on me, because it was bucketing down with rain in Phuket. But, I digress.)

I had a whole lot of posts planned about some delicious local foods which we stumbled upon on our trip – but that will have to wait. Because I got distracted. By a display of meringues.

Good Lord, have you ever seen such beautiful, blousy things? I was waddling through the city this afternoon on the way back from lunch with my sister and Daddy, and as I passed Leadenhall Market my eye was caught by a horrendously inviting stall, selling an array of gorgeous pastries – and these little stunners!

Naturally I almost farted in excitement and ran over to the stall and bought myself one of these meringues. The rest of the stuff looked gorgeous, too, but I am afraid that I only really had eyes for these.

The lovely, patient French gentleman manning the stall explained that the stall is run by Comptoir Gourmand, a lovely patisserie on Whitecross Street, EC1.

And, ladies and gentlemen, if their meringues are anything to go by, I will be fasting for a week and visiting this little place tout de suite.

My modest £2.50 investment bought me a heavenly meringue practically the size of my own head (I chose a beautifully marbled vanilla and raspberry specimen, but there were other varieties too) and upon abandoning my other business and rushing home to give my purchase the attention it deserved, I can happily say that this was one of the most glorious members of the meringue family I have ever had the pleasure of consuming.

Each meringue is huge and would happily feed four normal-sized people, or one very greedy Jessy. Light as air, with a beautifully crisp outer shell and gently squidgy centre, just the right amount of sweetness and perfectly shot with raspberry, this was as good as they come.

Go, meringue lovers, and buy one of these (Kitty, I’ll post you one). They will enhance your life immeasurably.

(I’m sure their other stuff is very good, too).

See you tomorrow!

Love,

Jessy xxx

Comptoir Gourmand, 126 Whitecross Street, London EC1

Tel: 020 7490 2828

Leadenhall Market: http://www.leadenhallmarket.co.uk

 

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Event Review: Chilli Fiesta 2011, West Dean, Chichester

I am a complete baby when it comes to all things spicy.

I love a subtle kick to my food, but the emphasis is definitely on the ‘subtle’. Our time living in Asia was marked by the daily struggle of trying to find something – anything – that wasn’t too hot for me to handle, and I quickly got used to mean tricks being played on me by the locals, who thought my inability to tolerate more than a modest level of chilli a hugely entertaining daily diversion.

This issue became even more problematic when I realised that I was possibly the worst person in the world to review the annual Chilli Fiesta.

The Chilli Fiesta is a yearly extravaganza based in West Dean, near Chichester. Since its inception in 1995, this amazing three-day event has increasingly become a total foodie mecca, with over three hundred different chillies and peppers on display, including the world’s hottest chilli – the California Death Pepper, or ‘Naga Jolokia’. Argh!

Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? And, thankfully for me, the gorgeous Nathalie Clough stepped into the breach and agreed to review 2011’s Chilli Fiesta in West Dean, Chichester for The Daily Home.  Trust me, its better all round.

‘The forecast for this year’s Chilli Fiesta was warm with the prospect of some sun (much to my delight as it had been horrible all week). I happily dressed in my finest shorts and summery top in preparation for some rays, but as I arrived at the festival it quickly became apparent that the good old BBC was wrong again, and that I was almost certainly going to freeze.

Never having been to the festival before, I was unsure what to expect. I suppose I imagined a lot of chilli plants and table after table of chilli sauce! To a certain extent this was what we got, but as we arrived it became apparent that the emphasis was also on a variety of homemade chilli-based produce and individual food stalls.

Now, I love my food, and for this reason I love food festivals, as it gives me the opportunity to quite happily toddle from stall to stall eating food all day.

However, in this case I must be perfectly honest: I was a little disappointed by the lack of number of stalls and opportunity to try small portions of different foods.

It seemed to be more focused on large meals which, for me, took a lot of the fun out of the tasting aspect because clearly stomach capacity and budgetary constraints mean that eating fifteen different main courses was never going to be an option.

We eventually found (after wondering around for what seemed, to my empty stomach, far too long) a small stall, with a rather excellent family set-up: a lady, whom I assumed to be the mother, cooking on a stall in the back, and the father and son fending off the hordes of people at the front.

This family enterprise sold eight different curries and a few battered accompaniments. After inhaling two very spicy curries, my tummy was partly content and I went on the hunt for more.

The stalls to the back of the festival were more successful in my opinion; there were several different stalls selling chocolate-covered chilies and wrapped up cookies that would make lovely gifts, as well as jams, chutneys and sauces.

This was much more along the lines of what I had been looking for, and I spent a long time contentedly waddling around this area soaking up the atmosphere and doing some shopping.

By this point I was beginning to resemble a slightly maniac kid in a sweet shop.

Happily, for those of you who actually have kids, there were several things for kids to do if their small stomachs were unable to tolerate the chilli, such as balloon stalls and a very popular face-painting stand.

I fully entered into the spirit of things, and queued up at the face painting stall! However, after spending ten minutes waiting for a moustache to be painted onto my face I finally gave up and wondered off to find some plants.

The plant selection at the festival, in my mind, was where they really began to excel. There was an absolutely huge selection of different chilli and pepper plants, and a great amount of very knowledgeable and friendly stallholders.

However, knowing my ability to kill a plant by just looking at it, I settled on a small (though apparently very deadly and hot) purple flowered one, which the gentleman running the stall assured me would grow into several large chillies, despite my lack of gardening prowess. We shall see.

Although the rain did try its best to ruin my day, I came away with a very full stomach, a large plant and numerous goodies in my arms and very happy with my first experience of a chilli festival.

However, one word of caution: the boys in my group were a little less happy upon leaving, having succumbed to the typical ‘I can eat the hottest chilli in the world’ fever.

This particular chilli was so strong it was recommended only to be used in cooking, and in very small doses. Needless to say, there were more than a few very sore stomachs in our party by the end of the festival!


All in all, the Chilli Fiesta was a fun day out, and – if the weather is fine – would be a really interesting and unusual trip especially for families, as it is one of those rare places where there is just as much for adults to do as there is for children.

If they would just focus a bit on attracting some more small producers to add a bit of variety to the food offerings, it would be a perfect day out.’

Next year’s Chilli Fiesta will take place on the 27 – 29 July 2012. For details, see @westdeanejf on Twitter, and West Dean College and Gardens  on Facebook.

Do you have any questions you’d like answered? Ever wondered how to make a bed properly, how to cook easy bread from scratch, how to make the perfect cake, how to get tough stains out easily and quickly? My friends, I am rubbish at many things but due to a strange addiction to Mrs Beeton in my early teens and a very accomplished group of friends and family, I have access to a fairly sizeable amount of domestic knowledge. Test me – send me your domestic conundrums and we will see what we can do!

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