It’s no secret how much I love Vietnam, and I’ve waxed lyrical about the culture, the people, the coffee and the food to everyone I know (see post here). Thing is, even in Southeast Asia, Vietnamese cuisine is often overlooked in favor of the richer, bolder, more intense flavors that our palates have grown so used to. L knows how much I like Vietnamese food, so I was very happy when she took me here for a spot of lunch in between lectures, and am very pleased to say that I really enjoyed my first experience overall and will definitely return soon.
Misschu has branches in Sydney and Melbourne too, though I can imagine the competition there must be a lot fiercer considering the number of good Vietnamese places there are in Australia compared to the relative dearth here in London. This branch in London is a tiny place right by Aldgate East station. There are just the few tables although they do operate a very popular take-away service as well. As soon as I entered and took a seat, I was supplied with a china teapot and a steaming cup of tea. I didn’t ask what the tea was but it tasted similar to Korean brown rice tea.
They operate a “tuckshop” ordering system, whereby you put your orders down on these slips and bring them to the front, whereupon you can pay and they will put your orders through. In addition to the items on the order slips, there are also specials written up on the board, so do keep an eye out for them. A quick look through the menu would tell you that this is not your typical Vietnamese place – they put their own spin on traditional offerings like rice paper rolls, banh mi and pho, and alongside these they also serve a selection of dimsum items like steamed dumplings and steamed buns, and healthy, vegan options for the clean-eaters amongst you, like quinoa and red rice.
We started with some drinks.
L got a coconut water, which she really liked, but which made me miss the abundance of fresh coconut juice we get back home, served right in the shell, that you can get for a fraction of the price… And freshly-squeezed sugar cane juice wahhhhh… :'(
I had to get an iced Vietnamese coffee because I have something of a love affair with it. I can easily drink about 8 cups a day when I’m in Vietnam (and am willing to put myself through the caffeine-withdrawal migraines that follow in the week after I leave). This definitely had that smooth, sweet milkiness so characteristic of Vietnamese coffee, though I found that it wasn’t strong enough, and I like my Vietnamese coffee to be very strong.
I ordered the suckling pork belly and pâté rice paper rolls off the specials menu.
When these came to the table, I gleefully noted how fat and well-stuffed they were. The rice paper was ever so slightly sticky, probably from soaking in water a bit too long, so that the roll stuck to the plate and to my teeth a little. As for the filling, while the rolls were chockfull of ingredients, I couldn’t detect the pâté , so that was a little disappointing. As for the pork belly, I would say that if you aren’t used to eating pork belly in any other way than roasted to a crisp, you may want to avoid it, since you are likely to find the fat here flaccid and chewy. I myself love fat, but found myself wishing that this had more flavor, being used to eating pork belly that has been braised all day in a heavily-spiced, dark soy broth until the fat is melt-in-the-mouth tender and indescribably tasty… Not too different from bone marrow actually, if I were to describe it to our non-Asian friends.
But I digress. Having said all that, this was wonderfully refreshing and clean-tasting, and I loved that I could actually taste the laksa leaf in it (‘laksa leaf’ being what Singaporeans/Malaysians call the Vietnamese variety of coriander, as we add it to our laksa). The rice paper rolls come with a thick, sweet dipping sauce not unlike the tian jiang (sweet sauce) we have back home with popiah (fresh spring rolls) or chee cheong fun (steamed rice rolls), and while this is not traditional – traditionally, rice paper rolls are served with nuoc cham (a Vietnamese dipping sauce that includes sugar, garlic, chilli and fish sauce) – it was still great. Overall, I definitely will order the rice paper rolls again but perhaps choose a different filling. There are some interesting options, like roast duck & banana flower, a vegetarian option of egg omelet, avocado & balsamic caramelised onion, and even a vegan option of mushroom & tofu.
Even though I’m not the biggest fan of pho – bun cha being my favorite Vietnamese noodle dish – I saw the word ‘oxtail’ and knew I had to had to haaaad to get it! This was good. The stock was thin and clear but still flavorful, and wonderfully warming, especially when it’s cold out. With the rather generous portion of meat and slippery flat rice noodles (my favorite kind of noodles incidentally), it makes for a nice, light meal, which I believe most people would find filling but I SORRY OKAY, I FAT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I adored the chunks of tender braised oxtail, which were very tasty, and now I rather wish pho always came with oxtail. And I sure wouldn’t say no to getting the whole bony bit and the marrow as well……………………. The beef was a little too cooked for my liking, and had become slightly tough and chewy, although it may be because I am partial to pho tai, which is pho with rare-cooked beef, and had visions of thinly-sliced, rosy pink slivers of meat, delicately cooked in hot broth. YUM. This beef had a very strong “beefy” (for lack of a better word) smell and taste that reminded me a bit of pig’s liver but it was still nice with sriracha, which might just be one of my favorite go-to sauces.
If I’m not mistaken, this dish is called bun cha gio – esteemed Vietnamese friends, feel free to correct me. It’s similar to bun cha, which, I have said before, is my favorite Vietnamese dish and a must-try if you’re in Hanoi (but ONLY from that one stall), but minus the delicious grilled pork patties.
Omg I’m aching with desire for some buncha now.
Anyway, this dish is a great choice for salad-eaters who are tired of chomping through mouthfuls of plain old soggy greens and are looking to switch up their usual boring options for something light, refreshing and a heck of a lot more tasty and filling. But if you’re really counting calories then you may want to eschew the fried spring rolls for the other options like lemongrass beef, chilli prawn or, if vegan, the sauteed shiitake, enoki & shimeiji mushrooms. Just don’t tell me and we can still be friends. (Maybe.)
Then it was dessert time!
I got a strong hit of cinnamon as soon as this was set down before us. It was freshly-fried, not in the least bit greasy, and had a wonderful cinnamonny, sugary crust. I would have preferred that it wasn’t advertised as ‘custard-filled’, though, as that description necessarily conjured up in my mind images of a cool, creamy and suitably oozy, vanilla-scented centre, and I was left slightly disappointed. I would have been happy with plain doughnut balls, with the custard on the side for dunking, or sans custard even.
We also got a steamed custard bun.
This was served hot, and had the nice smooth texture you expect from a typical steamed Chinese bun, but again I was very sad about the custard filling. Having said that, I accept full responsibility for having such unreasonably high expectations. See, when I see ‘custard bun’ I think of liu sha bao, which EVERY Singaporean will tell you is one of the most foodpornographic things in the universe, and although the picture below does not do it justice, here you go.
Okay, I hate myself now. Mad cravings for buncha AND liu sha bao. With no hope of getting either for a very long time. And I’m AWFUL when I want to eat something and can’t have it. Such is life.
We also got these really tasty slushy-like samples for free.
This had lime, coconut and mint in it, and was very refreshing and not too icy. We both liked it a lot.
Overall, I really liked this place and definitely plan on returning soon. Especially since it’s really close by Queen Mary, I can see myself coming before, after or even during uni. (Yes, most likely during, actually.) It’s great for a quick bite, with light and healthy options if you are so inclined (such a girl), and easy on your wallet as well. It’s a nice change of pace from the usual East London-type food, and a great Vietnamese spot if you don’t happen to be in the Hoxton area, where it would seem that most of the Vietnamese restaurants are clustered around. This place is not especially traditional but that is probably what is so distinctive about it – it represents a slightly different take on traditional dishes that is rather more experimental in terms of flavors, but executed simply and delivered in a no-frills fashion.
And finally, if you haven’t already heard, after much chiding and nagging, I have finally downloaded Insta on my phone, so do follow us at ‘transatlanticgourmand’!
91, Whitechapel High Street
London E1 7RA
11AM to 1030PM