Today was a London day jumping through hoops for a planned trip to the food-paradise and land of spices, Kerala later in February. After the necessaries were completed, it felt time for a return to MissChu’s Vietnamese in Aldrich East for some signature sashimi rice-paper rolls and memorable Pho.
Upon landing at the venue I felt slightly disoriented, as in the place of MissChu a stripped-back little Vietnamese had taken it’s place. We sauntered in anyway in search of at least an echo of the simple freshness, tang and service that made MissChu a welcome taste-escape in the big smoke.
Unfortunately, it looks like MissChu has fell upon hard times down-under in Sydney, where the company has gone into voluntary administration and had to lay off quite a few staff. Determined entrepreneur Nahji Chu set up MissChu in 2007 and expanded pretty successfully to Melbourne and London. Her inspiring back-story of a stay in a Thai refugee camp, after fleeing the communist Pathet Laos Regime in 1975, to her ascent to “Queen of rice paper rolls” in Australia with a busy little empire in Sydney, and her satellite operations in Melbourne and London, made her a popular hit with the press. Whom in turn are treating the demise of her Sydney based operations with an unrelenting scrutiny. Defiantly though, Chu insists she’ll make a comeback and is trading through voluntary administration – the new outfit in London seems to remain related to the Chu empire (at least that’s what the lovely serving bloke said) and retain it’s approach to the cuisine on offer.
On arrival, you could definitely feel a little of this anxiety in the air (pertaining perhaps to new management / pressure) – the staff looked a little flustered and there were a few things on the menu unavailable. Nevertheless, the guy at the counter was committed to the food and we purchased a vegan Hanoi curry, tiger prawn rice paper rolls and vegan Pho.
The rice paper rolls were unfortunately very disappointing: the freshness was lacking and the ingredients were dull and cumbersome. I did hear one of the staff mention someone had popped out to Tesco – this got my goat slightly, and probably explains some of the dullness in flavor and quality. My last experience of rolls at MissChu’s was great – they were alive, felt wholesome and packed a good combination of zest, body and crunch.
The Pho though met expectations. For a vegan stock it felt robust and reassuring – with a mushroom base, and great tones of cinnamon and after-bite of a maybe-tamarind. It had a wine-like quality and played host to a good blend of bok-choi, beansprouts, carrot and mushroom – with a few cheeky chilli’s littering the surface that kept a nice little glow at the back teeth for the length of the eat. The noodles felt silky, were slippy and were slurped appropriately. Good stock is hard to find and independents usually do it best: in the mainstream, Pho’s can be good. Wagamama’s, usually bland and empty.
If you want to know if care is taken around stock, ask staff about it – if their face lights up when they talk about it, (which was the case for the manager of Xin Chao) it’s probably good. My better half had the Vegan Hanoi Curry – his recommendation: “One of the best currys I’ve had outside of south-east Asia – I enjoyed every mouthful”. On the house we had green tea with toasted brown rice. Grounded us well it did, before heading off back into the city.
Overall, not bad. We were happy. But guys – lime next time please! Octopus Alchemy Score: 7/10