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Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Review - Mien Tay, Wellingborough, Northants

So it's a Sunday, I am slightly hung-over from an over-abundance of pear cider, tired from cooking a tapas feast, it's grey and dreary outside the window; what can I do to make myself feel a bit more human? 

I have a hunch that a lot of folks would cry "McDonalds!" or "A full English!", or maybe even...*shudder*..."A carvery!". And before you chastise me for besmirching the institution that is the carvery, let me tell you; I don't consume anything that has been languishing under a fetid heat lamp. The only organisms that should sweat under those things are reptiles. 

No, no, no. Me; I go for the clean, fresh, fragrant lightness of South-East Asian cuisine. Whenever I feel ill I always make a steaming vat of Thai-style chicken noodle soup, if I'm intent on snacking my face off I pick edamame beans, and for a place to rescue my faculties there's nowhere better than Mien Tay for Vietnamese. 

It would be really disingenuous to start talking about Vietnamese food in comparison to other South-East Asian cuisines (BTW why do we do that about Asian cuisines but no others? No one remarks "Oh French food, it's a bit like Swiss but without the holey cheese"). Vietnamese food is a fine beast of it's own making; the ingredients are fresh, the spices are heady, the chillies are tongue-tingling, and the sauces have the magical ability of being both rich and light.  It's comfort food which actually makes you feel warm and fuzzy about yourself without feeling like you've swallowed a space-hopper. 

The restaurant itself is part of a small family-run chain and Wellingborough is the third in the series and the first outside of the trendier parts of London (No I don't entirely understand why they picked Wellingborough either but I'm grateful for it). It's situated inside a gorgeous Tudor building which, although admittedly a little rough around the edges, has retained all of it's historical charm and the Vietnamese d├ęcor inside is a quirky update. There are some eccentric touches; my absolute favourite bit is the 90s souvenir mini Coke can salt shakers on the tables, narrowly beating the faux palm trees. The staff are an absolute joy; chatty without being over-familiar and bothersome, over-and-above-helpful, and the service is lightning fast whilst still being cooked fresh to order and without compromising on quality. The pricing is also pleasingly competitive; the mains are all around £5-6 (apart from whole fish, which is still reasonable at £10).

The best bit about the menu is that it's nut-allergy and coeliac friendly; they use symbols to denote which dishes contain nuts or gluten. By my estimation around half of the main dishes are safe for coeliacs and the majority have no traces of nuts (apart from the fried Vermicelli noodle dishes which seem to be doused in peanut). And the staff encourage questions about the ingredients, so if you're still not sure about anything they're keen to help. 

And now to the important bit; food. 

My starter was their signature dish chargrilled quail with honey, and although there's not a lot of meat on a spatchcocked quail what there was was gloriously sweet and juicy; they're right to be proud of it. T's main of stir-fried chicken with a dry marinade of lemongrass and chilli was, in his words, "lemony" (A real budding Jay Rayner there...). I thought it was all the better for not having a sauce; the dry marinade made the chicken soft, the chilli was a subtle partner to the lemongrass, which clung to the chicken satisfyingly. It was a world away from the overbearing, cloying sweetness of a Chinese lemon chicken. I had duck with ginger; the ginger both crushed into the light sauce with a touch of hoisin and cut into matchsticks alongside soft fried white onions. The sauce was unctuous and rich but the chef was clever not to overpower with the ginger and let the duck shine through.  An accompanying dish of fried noodles with vegetables was utterly moorish and the vegetables were only lightly stir-fried and still crisp. 

Chicken with lemongrass
All in all the meal ended with sated satisfaction and a feeling that our senses had been given a run for their money. And at the end of the meal you get this as an adorable palate-cleansing freebie... 

Orange you glad to see me!
I think it goes without saying that I'd give Mien Tay an enthusiastic thumbs-up! 

Price for 2 courses for 2 people with soft drinks: Approximately £30. 

Mien Tay, 29-30 Sheep Street, Wellingborough, Northants.
01933 223031

Opening hours: Monday - Saturday 12.00pm-11.00pm, Sunday 12.00pm-10.00pm. 

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