It would be easy to over look Mien Tay but do so to your detriment. It may not be as sleek looking as the plethora of Vietnamese restaurants on Kingsland Road but it more than makes up for it with substance.
Mien Tay is a small restaurant with a cosy feel – indeed the long front table was taken up with a couple of generations of one family when we visited. We were offered recommendations from the menu which featured old favourites such as spring rolls, pork ribs and salt and spicy squid, alongside more traditional dishes like chargrilled quail and frogs legs.
We kicked off by sharing a duck salad with fresh ginger and fish sauce which was beautiful, light and fresh tasting with plenty of duck and cooling noodles. Next came starters of chargrilled quail with honey, garlic and spices and pork balls with dipping sauce. We tucked into both with scant regard for the table or our clothes. The quail came with a small dish of pepper - we were told to squeeze fresh lime into it, which was a revelation. Meanwhile the pork balls were soft and juicy and we could happily have spent all night feasting on them.
The main course menu featured a section on eel & frog as well as goat which you don't see everyday. The waiter recommended that we try the sea bream with fish sauce and mango - I'm not usually a fan of fruit in my dinner but he was very convincing. We also ordered the goat stir fried with galangal, some plain rice and some noodles. When the dishes came out our waiter very apologetically told us that we had the wrong kind of mango, as the right kind hadn't been available that morning.......no matter, what we did have was amazing. The fish was cooked perfectly the sauce was a shock, but a welcome one, to a philistine such as myself. I now have to admit that it is sometimes okay to have bits of pudding in your dinner. The goat was sweet, sticky and dark with sauce – beautiful.
Whilst we were having our starters our new best friend, Van Xia (whose sister and brother in law run the restaurant) came to tell us about a new dish about to go on the menu for August & September. Fish hot pot will be available at £30 for 2 people and I can tell you it looked fabulous. Luckily for us the family were trialling it the night we visited and a large pot of broth was set down on their table, a plate of vegetables and pineapple followed, and then Van Xia showed us the seafood which was going in: a plate of huge raw prawns, scallops, mussels, blue crab and eel, all cooked in the broth at the table. Some poor nephew must have hated us as two bowls shortly arrived for us to test. It was amazing, honestly if you go you really should try it – if we could have we definitely would have ordered it - and where else can you get all of that for £30?
After dinner (and once again stealing from the family as there are no puddings on the menu), we were served bowls of coconut milk and sweet water with riceflour dumplings filled with sweet beans. Another thing which should, in my opinion, make it onto the menu.
Eating at Mien Tay is a bit like going to a friend's for dinner, we were so well looked after. The food was everything you'd want as well as being fantastic value: the most expensive thing on the menu was whole sea bass at £12 and the average price for a main dish was around £6. My advice is to skip the smarter looking places down the road and head straight to Mien Tay.
Mien Tay: 122 Kingsland Road, London, E2 8DP. Tel: 020 7729 3074.
Reviewer: Tara O'Reilly