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.
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!
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
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: