Green Papaya Xi'Viet and Laksa Kitchen (London)

We were looking for a place to get lunch near the Picturehouse in Hackney and found Green Papaya Xi’Viet. The restaurant splits its menu between Vietnamese and Xi’an Chinese food.

We started with a banh xeo, the Vietnamese crepe stuffed with pork, prawns and sauteed bean sprouts. Served alongside are a herbs and lettuce leaves, used to create wrappers around a bit of stuffed crepe, which is then dunked in fish sauce. The crepe was the thinnest of any banh xeo I’ve ever had, which made for plenty of nice crunchy bits, but fell apart easily. The lettuce leaves were from a little gem head; I prefer larger leaves, which are easier to use as wrappers. But the flavor of the overstuffed pork, shrimp and veg mix was fantastic, and this was a really enjoyable starter.

We went in a Xi’an direction for the rest of the meal, with cumin lamb and a main of stewed beef with hand-cut noodles in a light chili-scented broth. Cumin lamb was the perfect hit of spice and warmth, so pleasant on a biting day. I adored the hand-cut noodles and five-spice flavor paired with a Sichuan peppercorn tingle of the brisket.

Closer to home, Laksa Kitchen has been doing a pop-up in Kentish Town on and off throughout the year, now based at Tolli Cafe but closing on December 18th.

Everything about our meal was enjoyable and begging for a repeat, but I’m surprised to say the dishes that linger in my mind are both desserts – pandan custard with a sticky rice base and pandan crepes with palm sugar and coconut filling. That’s not to say the savories shirked their duties – duck egg char kway teow (wok fried flat noodles) and chicken curry laksa both were well balanced, rich and satisfying. I hope to explore the small plates menu before it closes – and hope even more that they find a permanent spot, because the food is excellent.

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“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold