Tonight we’re going under the arches in Covent Garden to enjoy some Vietnamese flavours at Moc Kitchen.
As I’m always discovering in London, despite having lived here for 30 years now, there’s a piece of history I’m not aware of around every corner. Today I got to thinking about the city’s railway arches because of where we were heading for dinner.
There are plenty of them – just think how many large stations there are and I’m sure they all have a story to tell! Historically they were a shelter for the homeless and vagrants. I can imagine they could have been somewhat dodgy places to go, with their darkness and dankness!
The arches between the Strand and the Thames, where we headed tonight, have been described as ‘a little subterranean city where no sane person would have ventured to explore without an armed escort’. Now that sounds scary.
The arches also provided a refuge in a more organised way when they were used as air raid shelters during World War II.
Now they’re even better places to visit, proving a wonderfully atmospheric setting for restaurants and bars. Like Moc Kitchen.
Opened this year by Lan Nguyen, who hails from Hanoi, this Vietnamese eatery offers a comprehensive range of dishes using classic ingredients. So I was expecting lots of fresh flavours and herbs. And that’s just what I got.
The menu takes some perusing and decision making. It’s neatly divided into sections to help the process, with tempting titles like Salads and Veggie combinations, Spring and Summer Rolls, Hot, Sweet and Sour Soups, Mocs Crispy, Mocs Pancakes, Mixed Bowls, Fish Selection, Duck in Sauce, Beef and Coconut Curries.
I’ve had the crispy pancake experience before so we went for a the southern style savoury golden pancake with prawns, beansprouts, celery and red peppers. A hearty plate of delights arrives at your table. You need to roughly chop the crispy pancake with all its goodies nestling inside, take a lettuce leaf and stuff it with a portion of pancake, loads of fresh herbs and a dash of sauce. Then munch.
The hot la lot rolls are are grilled lemongrass beef wrapped in wild betel leaf. An exotic-sounding dish if ever there was one.
And here’s a stunning duck summer roll. Love Vietnamese rolls wrapped in the light rice paper and stuffed with deliciousness.
For mains we had to go for the grilled cha ca fish. Marinated monkfish with Vietnamese dill, spring onion and roasted peanut served with rice noodles. As is again the case you need to mix everything up at the table…I love this aspect of Vietnamese eating. So a mix of fish, herbs, noodles, chilli and vegetables in a bowl and tuck in.
Another exotic-sounding dish. Prawn salad with lotus root. The combination is beautifully fresh.
And then there’s the spicy grilled beef served with the chef’s special spicy sauce. Again served with a cornucopia of herbs, noodles and vegetables to mix up in your bowl and savour.
Vietnamese food is certainly a great addition to London’s amazingly wide-ranging restaurant land.
Moc Kitchen is at 2 The Arches, Villiers Street, WC2, a minute’s walk from Embankment tube station. It is also open for takeaways at lunchtime.