I’ve been working in Northampton for about six months now but thus far without the opportunity to eat anything but canteen fare and humble pie. A visit from the Old Boy was an opportunity to break out of the campus routine and see what the town has in the way of gastronomy.
I’d been recommended Mandarin by one of the students – James had other ideas. He’d spotted Saigon on his way from the station and I was happy to do that. After a pint in the excellent Wig & Pen we strolled up to Saigon with phô in mind.
We were early (I was booked on an 8 o’clock train) so the room was empty of customers but that was okay – there were plenty of staff to make up the numbers. We took a table in the window; who would want to deprive themselves of the Northampton street scene? With its broad vista of pound shops, chicken shacks and Polski skleps it was like being at home in Harringay.
But looking at the menu I knew I wasn’t in Harringay any more – everything was about 30% cheaper. We went for a summer-spring roll mash up to start and a beef phô for main. The summer rolls were fat tubes of fresh veg with a sticky sweet sauce. Hard to get wrong and the bees knees when done to perfection (as these were).
Spring rolls were wrapped in a crunchy green shell and came with a haystack sized pile of fresh leaves alongside. We spurned the veg and got stuck into the rolls straight away. This prompted a rapid intervention by the owner who stormed over and enquired, ‘You ok?!’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘You wrap the roll in mint and lettuce – MORE FLAVOUR!!’ This seemed less a piece of advice than a command. We complied rapidly. ‘The girl not tell you?’ We couldn’t help but admit that she hadn’t. ‘I tell her.’ Oh dear.
The girl (who looked like her daughter) didn’t seem overly fussed about getting a bollocking when she brought us the phô so all was good. The phô was a big bowl of good stuff – a rich broth and about half a cow in it, the fat melting into liquid, sitting amongst a good helping of noodles.
The owner brought us the usual fish and soy sauces but these were unnecessary. We’d already tested what looked like a home-made chilli sauce in a little china bowl on the table, dipping the complimentary prawn crackers in it when we got our first beer. This sauce was straight from Vulcan’s kitchen, chilli seeds visible in a bright red paste that promised sweet burning fury in the gob and utter devastation of one’s middle-aged digestive system. I piled it into the phô and ordered another beer as an antidote. I was in chilli heaven.
Meanwhile the owner started gearing up for Chinese New Year by sticking a kitsch pig in the window. ‘Year of pig! VERY LUCKY!!’
Indeed we were.
To see where else I’ve eaten go to the GoogleMap …
Blue Badge guide to London and academic specialising in early twentieth century history. Blogging on history, academia, and food and culture in the capital (and occasionally elsewhere).