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Thanh Binh Review

Josh Learner learns that there is more to Camden than drugs, booze and Amy Winehouse

Written by . Published on November 3rd 2011.


Thanh Binh Review

I FOUND myself in Camden, you know the drill, the alternative attire, the markets, the junkies, the elite class of north London’s bohemia and hedonists holding hands like a whirlwind marriage led severely astray. I could go on about the perils, quirks, everyone claiming to know Amy Winehouse and the true wonders of Camden, but that’s already been done. One thing I hadn’t done, and meant to do a long time ago, was visit a wee gem of a Vietnamese restaurant on Chalk Farm Road, a stone's throw from Camden Lock.

As I took a seat by the far end window with my lunch date, a sudden fixation overcame me, immediately taken in by the dreamy oriental paintings lining the walls, and the menu, which boasted noodle salads, noodle soups, stir frys and rice/noodle dishes, didn’t look too shabby either.

Thanh Binh is building a reputation of some sort, one of being the best Vietnamese restaurant around, why? The food is said to be fantastic and head chef, Binh, is still pulling the strings in the kitchen ever since she opened it in 1990 – a good start. Photographs of Binh posing with Mick Jagger, Jimmy Page and Sienna Miller on the wall is a reassuring thing to observe when entering a restaurant I might add.

The interior of the building resembles the layout of someone’s house presented with warm yellow painted walls, solid wooden tables and art work either side of the room. As I took a seat by the far end window with my lunch date, a sudden fixation overcame me, immediately taken in by the dreamy oriental paintings lining the walls, and the menu, which boasted noodle salads, noodle soups, stir frys and rice/noodle dishes, didn’t look too shabby either. A lot of choice for sure – I tend to find big menus slightly worrying, how can a chef possibly have all these ingredients fresh for service? I was about to find out.

Ca Tim Rang MuoiCa Tim Rang Muoi

We went for the house sauvignon blanc (£17.50) and although unspectacular, I couldn’t fault it. Considering the restaurant was very quiet, I was disappointed to have to wait so long to order our starters but when we eventually did we ordered Cua Muc (fried squid, £5) and Ca Tim Rang Muoi (salted aubergine, £4.50).

The food arrived promptly and was presented well enough. The squid looked good from the outside with clean white batter pouting at me seductively. The only problem being that there wasn’t really much squid to speak of and the batter completely deceived me, it was too crunchy. This wasn’t the way my Thanh Binh experience was supposed to go. I was relieved when I locked my chopsticks around a juicy a bit of aubergine from the partner starter. I wasn’t just relieved, I was overwhelmed with what was a masterpiece in bringing a sometimes bland vegetable to life. The aubergine had a thin crispy outer layer with a subtle chilli kick, filled with a soft juicy inner, a sheer delight to my wanting palette.

Marinated Vietnamese porkMarinated Vietnamese pork

 

Feeling vindicated, my confidence in the place was back up to pre-arrival levels, although, I must admit, the waiter’s lack of enthusiasm for life, let alone serving us was disappointing, but I let it slide as conversation was flowing, the wine was pouring and I was on an aubergine high. For the main course I chose, on recommendation from a friend, the Pho Ga (£6), apparently the best Pho in London, and my date selected the marinated Vietnamese pork (£6).

The Pho Ga came in a grand ceramic bowl with a side dish carrying fresh mint, chilli, lemon and bean sprouts. The beef was thinly cut and beautifully tender. The broth was filled with flavour and the noodles, like a life-long friend, didn’t let me down. If I had to cast any negative at all I’d say there were maybe too many noodles which dominated the dish, especially when I was on the home straight to finishing it. My date’s Vietnamese Pork was cooked to perfection with an irresistible spice, although perhaps a little over salted. The white rice that accompanied it was cooked perfectly and the garnish providing a pleasant relief from the salty pork.

Pho GaPho Ga

So how did my pre and post thoughts of Thanh Binh compare? The food, apart from the lacklustre squid, was cooked and presented to a very high level. I’m also all too aware there’s a large amount of dishes that I haven’t tried and the restaurant was unusually quiet being lunch on a weekday.

I almost felt guilty that I hadn’t just gone and ordered another main or starter as I watched a rather impressive looking Mi Xao Gion Dac Biet (crispy noodles with beef, chicken, prawn, squid and veg, £7) being delivered to a nearby table. My first visit to Thanh Binh has definitely made me thirsty for more. If only the service had been more attentive and enthusiastic, the ultimate lunch date might’ve been complete. This won’t stop me from paying another visit soon though I can assure you.  


Thanh Binh


Rating:         14/20

Breakdown:  8/10 food
                      3/5 service
                      3/5
ambience


Follow @josh_learner on Twitter!

 

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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Casey GillespieNovember 3rd 2011.

Great review, Josh! I can almost taste the dishes by just looking at the photos... I've heard there are some great gems tucked away in Camden, looks like we've found at least one.

Joshua LearnerNovember 4th 2011.

Like

Jessica WomersleyNovember 9th 2011.

Definitely going to be checking this out next time i'm in camden!

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