In the past, we’ve had to travel to Shoreditch, Surrey Quays and beyond for a Vietnamese food fix so we were delighted to hear about this low-key cafe near Finchley Central. It’s on a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it parade of shops in an area not exactly known for great places to eat, so it’s great news for locals and even better news for us. We turned up expecting a no-frills Kingsland Road style cafe but in reality it’s a ‘proper’ restaurant with a clean and bright interior decked out with flowers. (Smart enough for parents or a second or third date).
The list of starters includes Viet classics like fresh summer rolls, chargrilled quail with honey and garlic; and soft shell crab. There’s grilled goat and pan-fried frogs legs if you’re feeling adventurous, and crispy aromatic duck with pancakes if you’re not. We ordered the salt and pepper prawns, lightly battered and tossed with plenty of fiery red chilli, shredded spring onion and garlic. The prawns had been neatly butterflied and deveined but, inexplicably, not de-shelled so that if you wanted to eat the batter you also had to eat shards of crunchy pink shell. Thankfully, the prawns themselves were fresh and sweet – the heat from the chilli balanced by slices of crisp cucumber and lightly pickled carrots. On a second visit, we tried the banh xeo – a a crispy pancake stuffed with pork, prawns and bean sprouts – which was a delicious street food style dish, easily big enough to share.
According to the TimeOut review, VyNam Cafe’s pho is ‘spot on’ and we’ve heard good things about the fish dishes like crispy sea bass with fish sauce and shredded mango and the traditional catfish with turmeric and dill. Our clay pot chicken arrived still bubbling and fragrant with fresh lemongrass. We devoured the tender strips of chicken and crunchy peppers and then ladled the creamy coconut sauce on to the remains of our special fried rice, studded with chopped prawns and Vietnamese sausage. A sizzling dish of not-very-Vietnamese beef with black bean sauce was equally tasty and we liked our side of stir-fried morning glory laced with plenty of garlic.
The dishes here might not be as authentic as they are at cafes on the Pho Mile but everything we tried was delicious, beautifully presented and full of fresh, flavoursome ingredients. The service was friendly and attentive, with the staff packing up our leftovers without us asking and fashioning make-shift kid-friendly chopsticks for a toddler at a neighbouring table. Still not convinced? Check out the reviews from Kavey and Aki Eats.
At the moment, they’re offering 20% discount at lunchtime, 10% when you collect a takeaway, and free delivery over £15 within a three mile radius. That said, the prices are so reasonable that it’s worth making a night of it and taking a few friends so you can really give the menu a work out.