It’s never good when your meal resembles an episode of CSI. There was meat everywhere, splintered bones, greasy finger prints smeared across the table cloth. I even had sauce on my nose-what a waste!
When trying new cuisine it is always advisable, not only to learn the pronunciation of the dish you have been eyeing up on the online menu, but also to arrive late.
This way you can follow the regulars’ lead on table manners. And if this fails, when your quail starter morphs into a murder scene you can hide among the crowd of contented diners .
We had arrived at Mien Tay early. Its popularity is well documented across the internet and our angrily rumbling bellies would not have taken well to disappointment. We were among the first and had no one to look to for eating etiquette.
The starters came. First up, tender quail with a punchy sticky sauce. This was a job for our hands. Lancing it with a chopstick seemed even more dangerous. Chaos still ensued, but the finger licking was worth it.
Frustratingly, towards the end of our second course a Vietnamese woman sat on the table next to us. The quail, along with a selection of knowledgably chosen starters, appeared in front of her. We willed her to tuck in and show us how it is done. But despite clinging to our table longer than it was polite, she did not. Clearly leaving the best to last.
Second starter, the papaya salad was wolfed down with far more ease, but no less pleasure.
Our beef pho arrived before we had finished the first course. A gentle nudge to stop us publically massacring the poor quail perhaps?
I had never thought it possible for something mellow to smack you round the face and leave you speechless. I was proved wrong. The taste was quite remarkable and entirely unexpected. A contrast to the spicy starters. This was deeply comforting. The onesie of Vietnamese cuisine. It warmed me from head to toe with cosy memories in a way I never dreamed a new food could.
But it was not to be underestimated. Warm fuzzy feelings aside, it was powerful and complex. Shockingly so for something that resembled a thin watery consommé. Just a sip had all the richness of a whole joint of perfectly cooked roast beef. Taste and textures played havoc with my mind, while flavours made love to my stomach.
For this dish we successfully played Sherlock on the other diners. It seems you take chopsticks in right hand, to put the bean sprouts, coriander, chillies and basil into the steaming pho, and later lift the meat and noodles out. The spoon in your left hand ladles up that wonderful soupy elixir.
The theatre is wonderful. We just need to work on dealing with those quails…but as they say practice makes perfect. And I am more than happy to put in the training at Mien Tay.
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