Goooood Nom-ing Viet-Man!
Since the British palette first took a liking to Asian cuisine almost half a century ago, it has travelled slowly across the continent to discover the intricacies, delicacies and differences that each area has to offer. After the initial appreciation of Indian curry houses and Chinese takeaways, UK tastebuds have been introduced to countries such as Pakistan, Japan, Sri Lanka, Korea, and most notably this millennium, Thailand.
As the journey developed, so too did the authenticity, as English adaptations have been increasingly replaced by the real deal. Whilst tikka-masalas and chow-meins remain popular, a growing market clamours for new experiences from far-flung places in the comfort of our own city.
All of which makes it rather remarkable that Leeds is only now heading south-east to welcome in the glorious flavours of Vietnam. For over a decade in London, rows of Vietnamese restaurants and cafes have been filled with feasting punters, and thanks to recent openings, these fabulous dishes are finally moving north.
One man leading the way on this very path is Harry Nguyen, a Vietnamese native who arrived in London 14 years ago, and who last year set up home in Leeds. During his time in the capital, Harry co-owned a restaurant similar to that which he now graces our city with, and promises to bring with it his lifetime of skills, passion, knowledge and experience.
Viet Guy is located on the lively Lower Briggate, and somehow manages to both compliment and contrast perfectly with its boozy neighbours. The space is able to accommodate stomach-lining night-lifers, but feels most welcoming to those wanting to sample its sparkling food and laid-back buzz, whether inside the venue day or night, or through its delivery to local offices and residents.
The menu is simple and salivating. Starters of soups, salads and spring rolls are familiar, yet all are elevated with a lightness of touch. Mains of noodles or rice plates sound equally well-known, but on arrival are a new sensation. Everything is easy to order, wallet-pleasingly priced and lip-smackingly delicious.
The expertise in the kitchen is delivered by chefs that Harry has brought along with decades of experience in cooking traditional Vietnamese street food. The key, he tells me, is balance and health. Less oil and more nutrients are used, leaving diners feeling uplifted, even when full of curry. As if to emphasise its benefits, the youthful Harry enthuses “I’m 65!” I still don’t know whether this was a joke. Either way, it’s a diet to recommend.
Herbs and sauces combine with meats, fish and veggies to produce a whole that does not overwhelm but does delight. He suggests vermicelli with belly pork and meatballs, only to then recommend everything else on the menu too, because only dishes he would be happy to serve in Vietnam make the cut.
To make this so, ingredients are imported from his home country to sizzle alongside fresh local produce. The room displays pictures of Vietnamese street food scenes, where groups relax and socialise around mighty fine food. It is this feel that Viet Guy hopes to replicate, and as it settles into the city’s scene, appears rightly set to achieve.