Great Vietnamese at CoBa in Camden (London, UK)

As a San Francisco transplant to London, I miss having excellent, regional Asian food a short bus ride or walk away (how I miss tea leaf salad). My neighborhood in North London has some tasty restaurants, but the standard Asian places tend to be Pan-Asian (Thai plus Chinese plus Japanese plus fish and chips!), not particularly good, and cheap with the ingredients I like best.

CôBa on York Way in N7 has been a great addition – it’s a bit upscale looking in the context of its immediate neighborhood (across the street from a kebab-burger-fish fry place) but prices are reasonable and the quality was excellent. The owner is Vietnamese-Australian, and I feel that focus on bright, fresh flavors in the menu here.

We split the veggie papaya salad, which was served with black sesame shrimp chips. If I had my druthers, I’d alter the ratio and decrease shredded carrots to green papaya, but the flavor was spot-on and the serving size was generous (definitely split this one).

My husband had the spiced BBQ chicken noodle bowl (AKA bun) which was thick with herbs and nuts. I had beef pho, which nicely had more than one cut of beef (balls as well as slices). This wasn’t quite the luxury of San Francisco Vietnamese joints where you have your choice of meat cuts in pho, but again, the flavors were fresh, bright and clean, and I loved that they weren’t cheap with the generous handfuls of herbs or meat. Also that they had different types of noodles in the bun versus the pho – if you love Vietnamese food, you might be thinking “isn’t that obvious?” but I’ve paid 8 pounds in London for a “bun” of soup noodles, no herbs, a bit of grated carrot and some sad flavorless chicken. No longer. Team CôBa.

Dessert was a slice of banana-coconut cake with a spoonful of caramel. To die for.

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It always confuses me for a moment or two, when Americans say “Asian” to indicate East Asian. As you’ll know, Britons will generally use “Asian” to indicate the Indian sub-continent.

In this case, I thought “Eh? Can’t get “excellent regional asian food”?”. Didnt compute. I hadnt really clocked the thread title so it took me a little while to read through and realise.

Nope, I didn’t know that. My husband is a Brit, but I’m not sure I’ve ever heard him say “East Asian.” Or even Asian, he’ll say “Let’s get Thai” or “Let’s get Korean” but the restaurants around us – at least the ones in walking distance – tend to be a mishmash of cuisines. And fish and chips, of course.

Deptford is great for a selection of very authentic Vietnamese restaurants - still rate it higher than the Shoreditch counterparts, although standards are getting better London-wide.

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Exactly. Whilst we’d use “Asian” to generally describe folk with heritage from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka (and maybe Afghanistan), we’d generally specify nationaliities of folk from East Asia.

The lack of good Vietnamese restaurants (or, even any Vietnamese restaurants) is hardly surprising. The last census records there’s only about 20,000 people of Vietnamese birth living in the UK, with about 15k of those living in London. Manchester, which has the third largest community, numbering about 800, should probably think itself fortunate that we have one cafe (open for lunch) that’s Vietnamese. My guess would be that they are likely to decline, rather than increase, as the younger generation finds employment in industries other than hospitality.

It’s perhaps a little further than a short bus ride from N7 (depending of course on whereabouts in N7 you are), but Mandalay does tea leaf salad.

Thanks for the tip – yes, I’d explored Mandalay before and read things that didn’t encourage me to believe the food was worth the haul out there. I may make the trek up to Mum’s House in Tottenham some day when I have the time to get their take-away tea leaf salad kit.

Ah, yes, if it’s hard to get there from where you are, then perhaps not worth the journey. I’m not hugely familiar with North London bus routes.

Mum’s House is great — I have some of their tea salad in my fridge right now. They do deliver, too (free for ≥£25 order in N7), which might be worth it given it’ll save you the travel time.

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Fabulous–thanks for confirming my suspicion that it’s good. I just ordered nan gyi thohk as well as tea leaf salad and some soup. We’re actually in NW5 (the vietnamese place I wrote about is a short walk from our place, but a different postcode) so it makes more sense to pay the delivery fee than try to hit the minimum, but I am really excited at the potential for great Burmese food delivered to my flat!

Excellent — do report back once it arrives.

I’ve been to Mandalay a few times and never really rated it. Much better was The Cooks House in Herne Hill. It also was less than 2 miles from my flat so could get good Burmese food delivered. Always a plus. Unfortunately it’s closed and been replaced with a chicken shop, because South London could sure use another fried chicken purveyor.


Agreed, paprikaboy. We’d also talked about that previously on Chowhound:

So Mandalay does tea leaf salad now? It didn’t before when I was there in 2013.

Agreed, Harters. It used to confuse me no end - in Australia where I spent most of my growing up years, “Asian” was taken to mean the Vietnamese (and, by default, all other East Asians like Chinese, Japanese, Koreans) but not those from the South Asian sub-continent.

But I do know that in the UK, it was the other way round, and “Asian” really meant those from the South Asian sub-continent, but not the Japanese/Koreans/Chinese.

It drives me crazy when people use ‘Asian’ to designate a cuisine. An American friend visiting London asked if we could eat Asian food. I started to list all the different types of cuisines that come from Asia. She looked at me as if I was mad and answer, “Chinese. Asian food is Chinese.” I really had to bite my tongue. Since I’ve been living here, I’d notice that when local friends say they want Asian, they usually mean Indian. Is it really that difficult to be more specific and say I want Korean or I want Chinese. And no, they are not the same types of dishes.

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Which, of course, may mean Indian, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan or Pakistani food, in the same shorthand as we describe people from those countries. The difficulty comes in that many of the high street curry house type places will describe themselves as “Indian” regardless. It’s really in the hands of the owners to change if they wish (and I think I see something of a start to change).

The diversity of cuisine across the different parts of the world. I doubt whether many would refer to “European food” - although I’d be interested to know if our continent’s food is regarded by people from Asia in such a generic way.

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