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Vnam Cafe review

Jennifer Choi slurps wonderful noodles and gets nostalgic over finger-lickin' quail

Published on April 21st 2010.

Vnam Cafe review

Manchester has another Vietnamese outlet.

Last month, Bubbles got Confidential all excited with its delicate summer rolls and fresh zingy salads, introducing the city to mouthwatering signature flavours like lemongrass and pho broth.

The quail opened our eyes to barbecuing Vietnamese style. The juicy tenderness of these birds brought back memories of roast baby pigeons from Hong Kong.

Open less than a month and situated at the very top end of Oldham Road, Vnam Cafe is Manchester's latest family-run cafe boasting authentic meals but still hedging its bets with a section for chips, burgers and pies. That said, it is also Manchester's latest hidden gem.

On closer inspection, apart from a brief lapse into 'English' 'meals', the menu is a compact and focused offering of classic Vietnamese dishes. No sweet and sour porks to be found here.

We started with summer rolls (£3), Vietnamese spring rolls (£4), and barbecued quails (£6). Summer rolls were enjoyable and stuffed with fresh lettuce, Viet-style pork and cellophane noodles, but a little more prawn would not have gone amiss. The fried variation had Chinese mushrooms, carrots and ground pork as well as noodles. Again, lovely but we would've preferred rice papers that blister when they're fried rather than the Chinese-stype flour wrappers used.

The quail opened our eyes to barbecuing Vietnamese style. Meats are marinated with lemongrass, garlic, shallots, chilli, sugar and fish sauce and barbecued to give that smoky flavour. The resulting juicy tenderness of these birds brought back memories of roast baby pigeons from Hong Kong. It's a similar technique of marinating then grilling on a rotisserie before dunking into a dynamite pot of lemon juice, pepper and salt that makes the diner abandon all decorum and make lip smacking-noises whilst eating with fingers.

Our mains of BBQ lamb chops (£5) were equally tender, with specks of lemongrass and herbs dotting the fatty meat making for more messy but worthwhile eating. The accompanying rice and salad were livened up by the sweet, garlicy chilli fish sauce. We moved onto savoury pancakes (£5) made from rice flour and coconut milk and fried until crispy before being stuffed with pork, prawns and beansprouts. Nice, but not exciting given the amount of oil involved.

And lastly, there was the spicy beef noodle soup (£6). Unlike the pho which is subtly flavoured with cloves and star anise and served with thin noodles, this bun bo hue had round translucent noodles and was all about the lemongrass and fermented shrimp paste. We piled on the beansprouts, coriander and Thai basil, and topped the mound with chillies and a squirt of lime – it was a steamy, warmingly-spiced affair.

As our plates were cleared we were offered Viet-style iced coffee (£2.50) – a cool cocktail equivalent of the ordinary Vietnamese coffee, typically made with a specialist filter and condensed milk at the bottom. It was strong, but you wouldn't notice for the ice and the sweetness.

As we left we quizzed the manager on having an 'English' menu. Quite matter-of-factly he pointed across the road and explained it was for the Royal Mail staff. He recommended the full English and promised there wouldn't be any fish sauce or coriander in it. To each their own, but we'll stick with the Viet dishes, thank you very much.

With just under 40 covers, the place is not yet known outside the staff's friends and family. The decor is nothing to write home about but like most other oriental restaurants, you go for the food. Here, they throw in friendly service with a North Manchester accent too. I'd get to Vnam Cafe quick before the posties discover it.

Rating: 14/20
Breakdown: 7.5/10 food
4/5 service
2.5/5 ambience
Address: Vnam Cafe
140 Oldham road
M4 6BG
0161 205 2700
11am-10pm daily, closed Tuesdays

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Gordo gets carried away

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17 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Scott NeilApril 21st 2010.

two Vietnamese gaffs blowing up in the space of a few months, brilliant!! Vietnamese coffee FTW...

AvoApril 21st 2010.

"Here, they throw in friendly service with a North Manchester accent too" - I'll steer clear then. Those commie b4astards ain't getting my hard earnt dollars.

AvoApril 21st 2010.

Whoops. Should have read the article in more detail. I thought it said North Vietnamese accents. Sorry guys.

AvoApril 21st 2010.

In my defence, I'm pissed.

AgricolaApril 21st 2010.

Avo that was sort of beautiful. It was a long-winded haiku. But magnificent

Leigh ScottApril 22nd 2010.

Morning AVO,how's the head?

AvoApril 22nd 2010.

Look, I had a Remy Martin cognac tasting yesterday which started at 3:00pm and I types those comments when I got home so yeah the hangover was pretty bad. Time for eggs benedict and a bloody mary at Blackdog perhaps.

AnonymousApril 22nd 2010.

This writer tends to overestimate everywhere.

AnonymousApril 22nd 2010.

Hard earned what AVO... your out of work are you not??

AnonymousApril 22nd 2010.

Maybe something wrong with my head also, but so confused with the pictures and the text: which one is the summer or spring rolls, and barbecued quails and lamp, pancake, and pho and noodle soup..., I can see the &quoticed coffee&quot, though...

bicycleguyMay 3rd 2010.

good food but no website, no vegetarian options (but meat options with meat taken out), and they don't take plastic.

AnonymousMay 3rd 2010.

bicycleguy, what would you mean "they don't take plastic"?
"meat option" without meat buy with some "plastic" inside??

JennMay 4th 2010.

Anon the summer rolls are the ones with the slightly translucent wrapping, the fried ones are the ones that look for familiar as spring rolls. Beef noodle soup photo should be up soon.

And no they don't take plastic but there's a cash machine across the road, hope this helps?

Valerie CastanMay 5th 2010.

Went on Friday and it was really good. I was semi expected a dingy little greasy spoon but it was really nice and clean with some efforts tries for 'design' deco. The service was very friendly and the food served was really fresh and flavoursome. We had summer rolls, the Chicken soup and the beef and pork spicy soup. Although my friend thought the spicy soup could have done with more spiciness. BYO drink makes it a really tasty n cheap dine out option!

jenniflowerJune 16th 2010.

Nyam nyam nyam!

The RodentJune 26th 2010.

Pretty spot on with the review.

Small amount of good dishes prepared well. We had the quail and squid to start, both excellently cooked, the quail was spatchcocked sweet and tender and the squid was hot, fresh and crispy with a lovely light salt and pepper coating, with no grease oozing out

For mains we had bbq pork chop and deep fried prawns (were a starter, but we asked for it as a main - huge portion!)

The pork was very tender and worked really well with the spicy sauce and plain rice.

The prawns were of the same quality as the squid and plentiful (my wife reckons twice as many as you get in your average chinese - and she would know!)

We finished with iced coffee and the bill (including 2 cokes) came to £26

Would recommend getting their before it gets too popular

Arnold AshworthAugust 31st 2010.

Tried it Saturday, bloody fantastic, had to bring some home as portions are huge, best salt and pepper squid I ever tasted and the pork skewers are to die for, great friendly service, wish I lived closer

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