Tom finds a warming Vietnamese welcome at a family-run West London newcomer.
Tanvan, a newish Vietnamese restaurant in a freshly spruced-up part of Ealing, is the sort of family-run place that makes me very happy indeed. Owned by three sisters, and named after their grandparents, the kitchen is run by their mother. Family photographs cover the wall, 1960s Vietnamese soul-jazz trills from the speakers, and our waitress has a charm and easy confidence that seem a physical expression of the restaurant’s succour-soaked soul.
All the classics are there. Prawn summer rolls filled with crunch, zing and vitality, the plump crustaceans pressed up against the soft rice paper like kids’ noses at a sweetshop window. Bo la lot are dark and sticky, shards of spiced pork and beef wrapped in a betel leaf shawl. A lively chilli oil sits on the side, alongside the usual sriracha sauce, to be splashed and squirted with lusty aplomb.
We drink cold Saigon beer, and bite into ban mi, the Vietnamese baguette, a perfect combination of crisp crust and airy crumb interior, the filling an ode to pig. Pâté, spread thick, then char siu pork, pork floss and slices of cinnamon-scented pork mortadella. Pickles, chillies and fistfuls of herbs keep the swine in check.
More pork with the bun cha Hanoi, bouncy meatballs in a vinegary, lightly spiced broth, and chewy pork belly sitting on a vast tangle of fresh noodles, covered with crushed peanuts and more fresh herbs and pickles. Texture here is every bit as important as taste. And there’s a glorious freshness to the cooking, all zest, fragrance and bite, things that separate good Vietnamese from the merely average.
Then pho. Obviously. ‘Go for the Hanoi garlicky,’ says our lovely waitress. ‘I just had it for my lunch. It’s great.’ And it is. The broth has a deep savoury depth, tasting of knowledge, nostalgia and a long, slow simmer. Surely a whack of MSG too, that wonder ingredient, so unfairly maligned.
We add lime juice, herbs, beansprouts, chilli oil and sriracha. You customise it to suit your taste, and that’s part of its allure. No two bowls are the same. The beef has a gentle garlicky tang, the noodles just the right amount of chew. We drink the last drops straight from the bowl. Next door, a group of French work colleagues dig into pork belly stew. ‘C’est bon,’ murmurs one. The others nod. ‘Oui, c’est bon.’
About £20 per head. Tanvan, 17 The Green, London W5; tanvan1951.com
DRINKS: Olly’s blowout red wines
With festivities ramping up, spending over £10 brings handsome rewards, especially with bottles from South America and Portugal. If it’s classic French or nothing, Côte Rôtie from the Rhône is my pick. Predominantly made from the spicy Syrah (Shiraz) grape, it’s often blended with a little white Viognier which dials up the fragrance into a full violet spectrum of irresistible allure. 2015 and 2016 were both stellar years, but choose a supple 2017 for drinking now – and I’d recommend decanting to maximise aromas, flavours and enjoyment.
WINE OF THE WEEK: LUIS FELIPE EDWARDS LFE 900 SINGLE VINEYARD 2016 (14.5%), £14.99, Majestic. A statement wine with the impact and structure of peppered steak. Spicy splendour, fierce excellence.
VIÑALBA RESERVE CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2019 (14.5%), £10, Tesco. Stunning vitality in this red that feels like the steal of the century. Buy all you can find.
MATETIC ESTELA LUNAR PINOT NOIR 2019 (13.5%), £12, M&S. Superbly rich Pinot with autumnal spice and world-class finesse. Tastes like bargain fine wine to me.
QUINTA DO NOVAL TOURIGA NACIONAL 2017 (14%), £43.50, fortnumandmason.com. Abundant festive spice. Elegant and charms with every sip. Wow!
CÔTE RÔTIE PATRICK JASMIN ‘LA GIROFLARIE’ 2017 (13.5%), £49, yapp.co.uk. Firm power and heady perfume surge into a robust finish in a surreptitiously spiced icon. Treat yourself.