Nothing cures a sore head better than a steaming bowl of Vietnamese Pho.
Viet-Anh Cafe on Parkway, Camden, was a frequent weekend pit stop when we lived in NW3, back in the day when bar crawls and night buses were a regular feature of the working week. Four years later we returned with baby in tow, curious to see if it still worked its magic.
To my relief, nothing had changed. The same staff run the place, condensation runs down the pale blue walls, and every table is full. A good start.
For me, every Vietnamese meal must start with fresh vegetable spring rolls (goi cuon). Light and aromatic, and stuffed with herbs, they are the antithesis of greasy fried spring rolls filled with unidentifiable vegetable matter that you frequently find in Chinese restaurants. Accompanied by a rich peanut dipping sauce, they hit the mark, and vanished as quickly as they'd arrived.
The menu is enormous, featuring over a hundred soup, noodle and rice dishes at around £5 each. It takes considerable effort to uncover the authentic Vietnamese dishes amongst the generic Oriental stuff, but if hunger overcomes concerns of authenticity, you'd be hard pressed to choose badly.
The braised and fried duck with peppers, onions, and crispy noodles was hot, sour, salty, and sweet. A blast of umami goodness.
Pho is the classic Vietnamese noodle broth, and - some argue - their national dish. Served with a bowl of lime, herbs and chilli for you to add to taste, you can choose to have it plain or spicy, and with beef or chicken. Seeking something of a more ethereal than earthy nature, I had the lighter chicken version. Ethereal it was. Sublimely fragrant and restorative, with slippery noodles lurking under the clear surface making it a substantial meal.
With two pots of jasmine tea, our bill for two came to less than £20.
There's nothing challenging or pretentious about this caff, just generous plates of noodles and rice, with your protein of choice. Cheap and cheerful. I intend to return and explore the menu more thoroughly, seeking out the more unusual suspects, and in the meantime head to Mien Tay in Battersea, a newish Vietnamese caff that's been garnering enthusiastic write-ups over the past year (see Lizzie's - aka 'Hollow Legs' - blog post here).