Given the ubiquity of food delivery apps the reach of neighbourhood restaurants has somewhat extended.
Indeed, during my visit to Mien Tay on a wintry Saturday night, I count four helmeted men, the G4S of the food world, popping in and guaranteeing safe passage to bags of takeaway.
A good neighbourhood restaurant is the jewel in the crown for house hunters; forget a skylight and a kitchen extended into the garden, if they spy an eatery where they can imagine having a usual on their way to a viewing, the floppy-haired chap from Foxtons’ job is almost done.
Mien Tay Fulham is one such place, part of a small family chain with further outposts in Battersea, Shoreditch and Wood Green, each run by a different family member.
No sooner had we sat down we were warmly greeted with a plate of rice crackers, while we perused a long menu.
The cuisine focuses on traditional dishes local to Mien Tay, Vietnam’s most important fishing region, an area of Southern Vietnam around the Mekong Delta, where the owners originate from.
There is an extensive drinks menu featuring cocktails, hard to find in London Saigon Beer and helpful wine pairing suggestions, alongside a delightful Blooming flower tea and Vietnamese coffee made with condensed milk.
Food is cooked to order and arrives piping hot. As you make space for more plates at the table, a game of food chess begins with your companion.
Sharing plates always bring out my inner Napoleon; I quickly identify the restaurant’s greatest hits and position them within perfect snaffling reach.
We began our meal with four vegetarian Spring rolls (£5.30) deftly fried and seasoned, giving the batter a pleasing, golden textured exterior that yielded in the mouth to reveal a piquant burst of soft taro root, dried fungus, onion and carrot. We were away.
Mixed Mushroom salad (£7.50) was a revelation; the prettiest shitake mushrooms that looked like they were plucked from Hundred-Acre Wood joined julienned carrots cut in a shape that brought to mind Ettore Sottsass’ iconic UltraFragola mirror, served with a refreshing lime dressing and finished with crumbled peanuts.
The salad was so beautiful I had the urge to stick a rosette on it and award it best in show and when we tucked in, it was rather less daintily wolfed down. Delicious.
Main course offerings are broad and wide, I would steer everyone towards ordering one of the Vietnamese Curry Clay Pots, available with a variety of meat, fish and tofu options, I plumped for the chicken (£8.50).
The sauce was like sunshine. Richly infused with mild chilli, garlic and lemongrass, seasoned and spiced beautifully by an expert hand, it was everything bowl food should be: warming, nourishing, comforting.
The chicken was meltingly soft with chunky, robust strips of red pepper and a scattering of peanuts providing a bit of rough crunch to the dish.
Rice options are myriad, I tend to favour an egg fried rice and Mien Tay’s punchy, well salted offering didn’t disappoint as an accompaniment.
A shared Chicken with Honey & Spices (£8.20) prompted an arms race between my date and I as we loaded tender segments of chargrilled chicken onto our plates from the main dish, all pretences of ‘please, after you’ were quickly abandoned as we took our first bites of sweet, umami flesh.
Desserts are not merely an afterthought here: more a call to make some room.
A classic Vietnamese pudding of Taro Ball in Coconut Milk served hot, was a sweet and hearty confection of taro root and glutinous rice topped with a creamy coconut sauce.
It was my first time trying this traditional Vietnamese speciality and as a fan of a hot milky pud, I would be more than happy to see it again.
However, there is one item on the dessert menu that for me to revisit Mien Tay and not order, would be like going to an Elton John concert and Elton not doing Rocket Man.
Ferrero Rocher ice cream (£4.80) could grace any ambassador’s reception: a glass dish of Ferrero Rocher ice cream punctuated with a thick swirl of chocolate sauce, topped off with one of the chocolates, a heady chocolate and hazelnut treat.
I would happily revisit Mien Tay to work my way through the savoury menu.
Safe in the knowledge I have my pudding order sussed: ‘Monsieur, with this Ferrero Rocher ice cream you are really spoiling us.’
Mien Tay, 45 Fulham High Street, London, SW6 3JJ