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Vnam Vietnamese Restaurant Reviewed

Rakhi Sinha things Vnam is Vgood

Published on March 19th 2012.


Vnam Vietnamese Restaurant Reviewed

CHEAP, fresh, delicious and very good sums up Vnam Café on Oldham Road on the fringe of the city centre.

Spicy notes were tamed by citrusy flavours then came crunchy peanuts, pickled carrots and lotus root, fresh mint and succulent king prawns. It had a kick to it 

Opposite the main Post Office depot, it doesn’t look like much from the outside. There are metal shutters of a flaking property and a huge billboard for neighbours, but inside it’s an endearing and popular little hangout.

Scuffy surroundingsScuffy surroundings

Having spent some time in Vietnam, I was looking forward to rekindling my taste buds with the lovely flavours I remember from my trip.

As with other Asian food, Vietnamese food adheres to the Yin Yang balance in meals with a careful mix of sour, bitter, sweet, spicy and salty.

It’s made up of a number of influences and is believed to be one of the healthiest cuisines in the world: Buddhism adds plenty of vegetables, there’s the tamarind and citrusy influence from South Asia with lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves, Chinese cuisine adds the five spices said to correspond to the five organs, and there are curries influenced by the Subcontinent.

My favourite thing when I was travelling was the goi con, or summer spring rolls - similar to typical take-away spring rolls, but not deep fried, so a much healthier version.

Spring rollsSpring rolls

When I had them in Vietnam they came with the rice paper on the side, and a huge plate piled with catfish, herbs, noodles and veg to stuff and roll yourself. They were delicious and addictive, I ate them nearly every night and have recreated them here many times.

The goi con at Vnam were as good. Instead of the catfish ones I’d had on my travels, here they are filled with king prawns, pork, glass noodles, fresh mint, shredded veg, and served with a peanut sauce. At £3.50 for two chunky rolls, they were a steal.

My fellow diner was drawn to the hen sot me to start, large, steamed green-lipped mussels (the main picture above) in tamarind sauce (£4.95). The sauce was so delicious that we were using the empty mussel shells to spoon it up like it was soup. The balancing principles were clearly evident with the sweet tamarind, sour kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass, and salty fish sauce. But unfortunately, the mussels themselves were overcooked and chewy. A real shame.

The menu at Vnam is a laminated wipe down affair, it’s neither pretty nor extensive and whilst there are plenty of meat and seafood dishes, many can also be made veggie.

For mains I went for a lotus root salad and my mate had a black pepper pork belly stew with rice.

Eating the lotus root salad was how I imagine Violet Beaureguard must have felt in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with her multi-flavoured chewing gum. Spicy notes were tamed by citrusy flavours then came crunchy peanuts, pickled carrots and lotus root, fresh mint and succulent king prawns. It had a kick to it and was a refreshing assault on the senses with the different tastes coming one after the other - eating it made me feel buzzing and alert.

Lotus root saladLotus root salad

My friend wasn’t as impressed with her pork belly stew (£6.95), which she felt was lacking in flavour and missing the black pepper taste described on the menu: “It’s not Ho Chi Minh-ging,” she said, “but it doesn’t taste of much either.” The broth was meaty, like stock, and whilst the pork was tender and there was the added bonus of a boiled egg, there was no star anise as would be expected in this type of dish (or any other aromatics for that matter), making it bland overall.

Pork dishPork dish

Being greedy, we also had some salt and pepper soft shell crab on the side (£4.75). It was simple and tasted like the seaside. It came with a sprinkling of fried onions and chopped chilli, spring onions and peanuts, and was a nice accompaniment to the lotus root salad. It loses marks for being paired with Thai sweet chilli sauce though, which we found too overpowering for the delicate flavours.

Soft shell crabSoft shell crab

Vnam Café is a charming and homely family-run business. On a Friday evening it soon filled up with couples, parties and groups of friends. It’s only a small place with maybe 40 covers but it has an endearing vibe which makes you want to visit again and again and keep trying things, indeed many of the diners must have been regulars as they knew about the BYO policy (£1 corkage, they don’t have an alcohol licence).

They don’t do puddings either but if you’re after something sugary try a Vietnamese iced coffee - made with condensed milk it’ll definitely satisfy sweet teeth.

When we came to pay, my friend and I were a little embarrassed that between us we had the total of £1.10 to leave as a tip. The service had been really good, prompt, and the waiters were very friendly.

I apologised hurriedly as we were getting up to go and in return got a big smile as the waiter said: “That’s fine, it was a pleasure to have you here, just come back again some time.”

And I definitely will because I want to try the traditional Vietnamese dish Pho (£7.35, pronounced ‘fo’), I’ve heard it’s pho-nomenol at Vnam Café (ho, ho or maybe pho pho). Not everything was perfect here with the food, but the place has that easy charm, that individuality, that marks a good independent. 

This is also a good place to bring the kids as well. The variety of food will provide youngsters with plenty of opportunity to collect their 'five-a-day'. At the same time the low cost of the food means failed experimentation does end up being a big waste of money. 

The total bill for two cost £30.05.

You can follow Rakhi Sinha on Twitter here @Rakhi_Sinha

ALL SCORED CONFIDENTIAL REVIEWS ARE IMPARTIAL AND PAID FOR BY THE MAGAZINE. 

Vnam Cafe, Oldham Road, Manchester, M4 6BG. 0161 205 2700. Website 

Rating: 14.5/20
Food: 7/10
Service: 4/5
Ambience: 3.5/5

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, we get carried away.

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

DavidMarch 19th 2012.

I would really love to see more Vietnamese food in Manchester,it is really under represented here.Pho is the best noodle soup in Asia,and their version of baguette is really tasty.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Dan McGlynnMarch 20th 2012.

Couldn't agree more re the under representation of Vietnamese. Apart from this and Dalat in Northenden I'm not sure there are any others. Looking forward to visiting here....

Hero
Mark GarnerMarch 19th 2012.

Good review Rakhi, I want to go. What is this thing with green lipped mussels? Most of them sem to come from New Zealnd and don't travel well at all. Why don't these guys use the fantastic local produce? I am always let down by the foreign guys.

pollolocoMarch 20th 2012.

They use them because they, like the rest of the seafood, they are cheap, come frozen and are available from wing yip etc.

AnonymousMarch 20th 2012.

I ate at Vnam before my trip to Vietnam and was very surprised to find the food very similar. Normally Asian food is westernised, but no at Vnam. Yes the decor isn't 5 star, but neither are the prices - well worth a vist!

avoMarch 20th 2012.

That pork belly stew shouldn't have star anise or any other aromatics in it anyway. Normally it's based on the pork cooking stock, fish sauce, caramelised sugar for the colour, pepper and MSG. As with most stewed dishes, it tastes better the day after cookig as the flavours have had chance to infuse into the meat and the egg.

RoyMarch 20th 2012.

Really good review Rakhi though I had a discussion with my daughter when we went last week about the pronunciation of Pho and it is more like fur than fo. I asked one of the waiters.
Couldn’t agree more. Delicious, fresh tasting food. Been three times now and will definitely be returning.

Lee GregsonMarch 20th 2012.

Returned from 3 weeks in Vietnam back in January, so starting to crave some of the spring rolls myself. I have to admit, I've passed this place loads of times but would never have called in.. I will be doing now though.
Cheers
Lee

Hero
RevaulxMarch 20th 2012.

Pictures of food rarely excite me as much as these...

AnonymousMarch 22nd 2012.

Last sentence error alert!

pollolocoMarch 23rd 2012.

went here for lunch yesterday...one word...awesome!

Daniel RobertsApril 26th 2012.

Ate here today, beautiful well presented food and niely balanced flavours

Everyone should try eating here, have a go at the summer rolls followed by a bowl of pho. Brilliant

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