I used to frequent Clerkenwell some years ago, hanging out with my friends at publishers’ Creation Books. Regular nights of heroic drinking would inevitably end in the Tinseltown American Diner in St. John Street. It wasn’t quite fine dining, although my palate was less sophisticated then, but the plates of steaks and burgers were large and cheap. Back then it was the only place with a late licence where you could eat and drink until the early hours. Going back after such a long time there were many changes in the neighbourhood; most of the pubs, the ones that still survive, have become gastro pubs; inevitable really, no pub can survive anymore just serving drinks. Some chains have moved in too, but more positively, so have a lot of new independent restaurants.
The original plan had been to eat in Bloomsbury, just near the British Museum. Not something I was looking forward to; the neighbourhood has a rapid turnover of restaurants, and besides, being in a tourist area they are not dependent on repeat business. Although with Trip Advisor now so powerful there is now nowhere to hide from bad food and service.
There is really no better way to see London then form the top of a bus. Always looking for something new I spotted this place in a part of London bordering the financial district where places are rarely open at weekends. From the bus it looked full, which is always a good sign, so, being powerless to resist temptation, I got off at the next stop and walked back.
The outside was surrounded by fresh flowers while the simple interior was welcome and warm with dark yellow walls, a natural wood floor with wooden chairs and tables. The creative menu contains many attractive dishes outside of the ubiquitous Pho Noodles you find in most Vietnamese restaurants. The wine list has been carefully chosen to match the dishes with most around an affordable £20. The majority of dishes were around £10, so ordering a few and sharing is the best option here.
The first was mango and prawn salad consisting of julienned sliced Mango lying on a bed of crisp bean sprouts, topped with large succulent prawns, elegantly presented and garnished with crushed peanuts and pea shoots. The food was dressed with Nuoc Mam, a Vietnamese fish sauce devised to complement salads, £6.80. A delicate balance of sweet and spicy with deliciously fresh prawn meat, it was an absolute delight.
Next was prawn and bean sprouts in a deep fried crepe made from coconut milk and turmeric, £8.50. The texture and crunchiness of the crepe was a sheer joy, pleasantly balanced with the crisp bean sprouts and juicy prawns.
Lastly shredded pork with warm noodles consisting of pieces of crispy pork belly on a base of noodles. Fabulous in both texture and flavour.
It’s rare I’m knocked out by food these days but this was something really special. Delicious authentic food, imaginatively cooked and beautifully presented at an affordable price in portions that won’t leave you hungry. My only minor issue was I felt that the spice had been toned down a little for the European palate. However fresh chopped red chilli and chilli oil were available on request to add at will.
The local Clerkenwell chains all seemed to be doing brisk business although I find with an independent the owners are always invested in the business both personally and financially and make that extra special effort that your rarely get in a chain. Feedback is constructively listened to and praise is gratefully received and the smile on the owners face when I expressed how much I loved the food was priceless.
144 Clerkenwell Road
0207 278 4213