Vietnamese Food

Home by Nico: Cooking ‘Vietnam’

07/04/21

http://www.home-x.com

In the current situation, the best chance of enjoying a memorable meal – short of making it yourself – is either the perennial takeaway or one of those ‘cook at home’ boxes. Over the past year, we’ve sampled quite a few of the latter, from different sources, with varying degrees of success. Something about the ‘Vietnam’ menu from Home by Nico hooks us, so we book it in for a suitable evening and, on the appointed day, within a designated one hour time slot (always useful), a box with the approximate dimensions of a small continent arrives at our door.

Once opened up, and unpacked, it’s apparent that the Nico team have put quite a bit of thought into this. We notice for instance, that the containers holding the various courses are composed of recyclable materials with a removable plastic veneer. This cuts down considerably on the inevitable landfill. We’ve often felt guilty about the wastage on some of the earlier meals we’ve sampled, so this feels like an important step in the right direction. The chefs have also tried hard to make us feel like we’re being suitably spoiled. They’ve provided enticing little boxes of garnish for each course and, though there is a certain amount of preparation required on our part, it’s no great hardship, with every step carefully explained. You’d be hard put to get it wrong.

For starters there are Duck Bao Buns – gloriously sticky steamed confections with a generous shredded duck filling and a selection of appetising garnishes including pickled vegetables, hoi sin roasted peanuts and crispy shallots. To say that the course is flavoursome would be something of an understatement: it is vibrant with flavour, as indeed is everything else about this meal. And the aromas are exquisite!

Next up there’s Hot and Sour Pho – a bowl of smoky broth, with earthy rice noodles, enoki mushrooms, lemongrass and chilli oil. This is perfectly spiced, just hot enough to set my taste buds alight but never overwhelming them. The pho is studded with red chillis and miniature sweetcorn and we polish it off very quickly indeed.

At this point, we take a short break and enjoy a couple of glasses of the accompanying wine, The Rambler, a fruity South African white that makes a perfect cooler after that fiery broth.

The main course is Caramel Belly of Pork Hot Pot – which is every bit as appetising as it sounds. There are four thick slabs of succulent meat, which need to be fried off, with a covering of aromatic sticky glaze. This is served with stir fried slaw, ginger and chilli. There are also two side dishes – some Sautéed Asian Greens with garlic and ginger; and a Clay Pot Aubergine, with green beans and chunks of potato. Individually, all the elements are good, but, when put together on a plate, they create a kind of magic.

Our past experience has been that the sweet is often a disappointment in these home boxes, but happily, this is not the case here. The Vietnamese Coffee turns out to be a thick, smooth pannacotta, with coffee sponge and a layer of crispy coffee crumb on top. It’s deliciously indulgent, almost velvety in its smoothness – and the fact that it comes in a re-useable glass jar is an added bonus. This pudding is irresistible right down to the last spoonful.

All-in-all, this might just be the most accomplished ‘meal at home’ we’ve tried and it serves to exemplify the Nico brand, offering sophisticated cooking at an affordable price. I can’t recommend it highly enough and I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for their next offering.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

Hanoi Bike Shop

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07/06/16

I was in Glasgow for some school events and after a rewarding day spent encouraging young people to write fiction, my thoughts inevitably turned to my evening meal and I decided that what I was really in the mood for was noodles. So I took a stroll along the trendy Byers Road area of the city, eyes peeled and after a little while, I spotted a sign that read Hanoi Bike Shop and I wondered if this might be the kind of thing  I was looking for. Then I spotted another sign that invited me to ‘get my noodle on’ and decided that I had hit paydirt. It turned out I had called at a fortuitous date because this being the first Tuesday of the month, it was Phat Phuc (yeah, I know, I know, but we’ll let them away with that, right?) Tonight there’s a set menu, offering four courses for the all-in price of £16.95. So in I went and down I sat and looking around, I liked what I was seeing.

The Hanoi Bike Shop advertises itself as a Vietnamese canteen. The interior is intimate, quirky and sure enough, the walls and ceiling are adorned with bits of bicycle, spanners , spokes and garish ethnic designs. A sound system pumps out classic rock songs at just the right volume. The service is prompt and the three smaller courses arrive pretty much all together, allowing me to dip in and out, marvelling at the resulting explosions of flavour.

The dishes comprise Goi Cuon (black pepper pork belly rice paper rolls with gem lettuce, pickles and nuoc cham): Sup Da (a broth made with chicken, coconut and lemongrass, replete with vermiccelli noodles, bean sprouts, coriander and crispy shallots): and Banh Gao (red dragon rice noodle cakes with spring onion and sesame seeds). Sounds good, right? – and happily each dish is every bit as delicious as you could reasonably expect – the broth is particularly good, thick, salty and bowl-lickingly satisfying. Just when I think it can’t get much better than this, along comes the main dish, Mi An Ot (salt and chilli shrimp and pork belly served on glass noodle salad with herbs and shallot) and I’m truly in noodle heaven. I wash it down with a bottle of Saigon beer and the whole shooting match comes in at around twenty pounds, which represents excellent value for money.

Quibbles? Well, only that you are expected to eat with chopsticks, something I’m spectacularly poor at. I’m sure  I could have asked for a fork, but looking around, everyone else was just getting on with it, so I gave it my best shot and acquitted myself well enough, I think. I’ve never actually visited Vietnam, so I can’t honestly say how authentic the food was, only that it was exactly what I was looking for on this Tuesday evening. Afterwards I felt pleasantly full and the next time I’m in this neck of the woods, I will certainly call in again to get my noodle craving spectacularly catered for.

If you like noodles, you’ll love the Hanoi Bike Shop. Try it out and if it happens to be the first Tuesday of the month, you’re in luck.

5 stars

Philip Caveney