London’s embrace of multiculturalism has long since been recognized as one of the capital’s most admirable traits. It has already been the subject of countless column inches and the culinary world has long since been thankful for this cultural mixing pot. Because of this atmosphere, food lovers in the city have seen everything from curry to Lebanese flats breads come into the mainstream. These days, even supermarkets carry what a decade ago would have been considered highly exotic food; yams, physalis and buffalo meat have all become both popular and widely offered.
Food from this region has found a niche within the capital’s restaurant scene and has been doing wonders to expand Britons’ knowledge of culinary diversity. There was a tendency to class all “Asian” food as roughly the same, just as one might consider all the wonderfully diverse regions of Italy essentially places that enjoyed pasta and pizza.
That’s a view that Colin Tu, one half of the pop-up store Big Dirty Burger and general food enthusiast, is looking to change. Late this February, the doors will open on his latest effort: Salvation in Noodles. Achingly cool and positioned in the hipster heaven that is Dalston, it was always going to be a unique affair. Opening a Vietnamese restaurant in East London is always going to be a bold move, after all the area is famed for its “Pho Mile”: a strip of Southeast Asian restaurants that has houses some of the capital’s best and brightest. Even so, this is a brave move.
Described by Tu as a “Vietnamese noodle-shack”, it focuses on the basics. The whole thing is homage to the wonderful versatility of the humble noodle. Rich noodle soups make up a fair portion of the menu, offering customers the classic combination of slippery noodles soaked in a fragrant, with fresh greens and other unique flavorings added to the mix. It’s the sort of dish that will have customers lining up around the block on a chilly spring day, and one that is known in its native region for its comforting effects. When the sun shines, patrons can favor a lighter broth made from chicken or fish with a thinner type of noodle: ideal for slurping sleepily in the heat of the summer sun. Vermicelli noodle salads will no doubt become the hit of the warmer months, with both the location of the restaurant and the nature of the dish perfectly suited to a lunchtime dash. These thin rice noodles are delicate and slender, ideally paired with fresh grilled meat or fish.
Street food will also play a prominent, if shifting, part of proceedings. London’s great variety of street foods is one of its great boons and the fact that its inhabitants are as likely to be found enjoying a quick slice of curried paneer as they are to be eating pastries is a testament to the diversity on offer. Salvation in Noodles is looking to add to proceedings in both a traditional and an innovative manner. They will serve street food as normal, and the streets of Dalston will no doubt soon be lined with many happy patrons enjoying a Bahn Xeo Chey in their lunch hours.
However, many street foods will also be getting the Tapas treatment. Spring rolls full of succulent prawns and fatty pork, earthy spinach stir-fried with garlic, aromatic lemongrass and chicken meatballs in a freshly made sauce. These are the kinds of dishes that will soon be shared out amongst diners as they enjoy the Vietnamese experience. A restaurant determined to raise the profile of one of Vietnam’s culinary staples, for many Salvation in Noodle will be the door to a whole new world.
What are your thoughts on the rise of new South East Asian culinary scenes in London?