I love Twitter.
There I was travelling down to London for a busy two day stint with nothing planned for the evening. Browsing through Twitter, I noticed that Krista at Neon had a couple of spare places on a wine tasting that evening in London. The last thing I wanted was another dinner for one in central London, so I threw caution to the wind and bagged a ticket. I have to say this level of un-premeditated behaviour is slightly out of character for me, so I was pleased with my devil may care approach on this occasion.
The event was being held at Mien Tay – a Vietnamese restaurant in Battersea. Now I’ve never been to Battersea before and it takes some getting to. During the rush hour it took a good 50 mins – this had better be worth the detour to SW11. The restaurant is modestly placed on Lavender Hill amongst an eclectic mix of bars, shops and takeaways. From the outside, it didn’t look like the kind of place AA Gill had raved about in The Sunday Times recently.
I needn’t have worried.
The event was to ‘soft’ launch the new wine list for Mien Tay that has been put together by Willie Lebus and his great team at Bibendum wines. Willie has been working hard to put together a small but perfectly formed wine list for Mien Tay which currently operates a BYO policy on wine. Willie has a bee in his bonnet (quite rightly in my opinion) about wine and oriental/ethnic food. Too quickly we reach for the beer or choose a horribly cheap wine because the food is too challenging. I’ll hold my hand up here and plead guilty but after this evening, I have definitely seen the light.
At the outset, Willie proclaimed that “Short wine lists are the future – and you can quote me on that” and then launched into a passionate tirade agains the “rubbish talked about wine” and he’s on a one man mission to make great wine accessible to all. They’ve even picked out some perfect wine glasses for the wine list – lots of attention to detail, I’m loving that.
The evening consisted of 13 wines matched to 13 dishes on the menu at Mien Tay. Now this sounded just fine at 7.30 when we sat down to eat, after a few glasses of a very refined but lively Prosecco Jeio Valdobbiaddene. It would be a very long blog post if I described every wine and every dish as it all just kept coming.
Here’s what I discovered:
Vietnamese food is beautifully subtle with a rich combination of flavours and textures, imaging Thai and then quadruple it. It was a revelation to me.
Mien Tay’s kitchen led by Chef Su can really cook. No scrub that, they can really, really cook. The fish is testament to that.
The wines Willie had teamed up with the courses were all on the money. For me there wasn’t a bum note – highlights have to be the floral Pino Grigio Dolomiti, the biodynamic Augustinos Sauvignon Blanc, a superbly out of fashion oakey Altos Chardonnay, a bonkers Manzanilla that just worked and a very supple Spy Valley Pinot Noir. Wowzer.
Food-wise, there was much to rave about – steamed sea bass was sublime, shredded mango salad and dried beef was a joy, the pepper squid was leaping off the plate with freshness, endless spring rolls bursting with proper fresh flavour, lamb with lemon grass was gratifying and the sliced beef with watercress and fresh lime salad all delivered punch and sophistication.
The wine added massively to the enjoyment of the food too. If we had ordered beers with this food it quite simply would not have been as good. The wine perfectly matched the food, enhancing the flavours and the enjoyment of each. On the finished menu, I’d like to see the recommendations by the glass against each course.
It was a real eye opener for me – as a food and wine lover, the alchemy involved in matching wine and food doesn’t always happen and there’s not always honest wine waiters to help with that.
What’s really funny is that I started taking notes at the beginning of the evening (there were professional journos there after all) but by the end of the night, the paper is soaked in wine and sauce and looks like a bunch of chimps have used it for a teacloth. Some of the more sophisticated London food bloggers and writers (I don’t include myself in this august company) were definitely looking a little frayed around the edges by the end of the night, but the formal food and drink tasting just turned into a great night with everyone getting along. The chinese coolie hats helped too.
The other thing that I learnt was that I can take or leave tofu – as a confirmed meat eater, I just don’t see the point of it. For vegetarians I can see the attraction – a food medium that can be cooked and take on flavours, particularly in a restaurant as exciting as this one.
The frustration for me is that this place is not only in London, it’s in a very inaccessible part of London if you’re coming from the North. I can guarantee that if you did make the effort you would not only be rewarded with superb food and wine at a ludicrously low price, you would receive a very warm welcome.
Note: I’ve tried to make my review more around the overall event and less about a blow by blow account – I’ll post links to the other bloggers who where in attendance, for a more accurate representation of the evening!