Hanoi Café

Tel: +44 (0)20 7729 5610
Address: 98 Kingsland Road, E2 8DP
Cuisine Type: Vietnamese
nearest tube station Old Street, Hoxton

I’ve never eaten jellyfish before – never had any desire to, really. They don’t have unctuous bellies that can be roasted with a nice bit of fennel seed, nor do they have succulent legs that’d go down a treat with mint sauce.

But when in Rome do as the Romans, I always say. Or in this case, when in Hanoi Café do as the Vietnamese do which is, so the menu led me to believe, eat jellyfish. Now admittedly, the waitress couldn’t bring herself to recommend that we try it but she let us order away to our hearts’ content, throwing in the odd recommendation or two herself.

Our starters of king prawn glass noodle soup and summer rolls soon arrived, the soup a flavourful broth with juicy prawns – but it was the summer rolls we really loved. Going against everything you were told as a kid about never playing with your food, you can have great fun wrapping the grilled meat and herbs into the rice paper with your bamboo mat. The waitress made it look so easy.

Having dropped a mountain of starters on the table we greedily anticipated our main courses. They didn’t disappoint and we were delighted by the caramelised ginger lime chicken that the waitress had insisted we try. The only quibble was that our stir-fried scallops with mixed greens was a little on the stingy side.

Now, on to the jellyfish salad. Unfairly, we’d wanted it to be so horrific that we’d have dinner party tales to regale people with for years. Alas, no. It was rather nice, all chopped up with delicious fresh herbs and zingy dressing. No screaming or writhing around as the tentacles wrapped around our tongues, no aghast expressions as we grappled with a wobbly head. It was akin to a giant, rather rubbery, rice noodle – perhaps the chef had made a substitution. Whatever, it was good.

Hanoi Café is one of the many Vietnamese eateries on Kingsland Road. I’ve tried several but I liked this place the most. With such great food and cheap prices (starters from £2.90 to £5.80, main courses £3.50 to £6.90), I couldn’t understand why this place wasn’t packed out on a Friday evening. It’s a café but a sleek-looking one at that; it’s licensed and it’s friendly. And you can play with your food…

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