Bites: Vietnamese

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It has never taken off the way Thai food has, though the number of Vietnamese restaurants in London is just into double figures. Although there's a concentration in the Hackney area, these restaurants spread further south - but not beyond the capital.

It has never taken off the way Thai food has, though the number of Vietnamese restaurants in London is just into double figures. Although there's a concentration in the Hackney area, these restaurants spread further south - but not beyond the capital.

Bam-Bou, 1 Percy Street, London W1 (020-7323 9130). Mon-Fri lunch and dinner, Sat dinner. This Fitzrovia townhouse turned into a two-floor restaurant, lounge bar and members bar, by Danish restaurateur Mogens Tholstrup suggests an "Indochine" theme. As well as references to Vietnam's French colonial past and European staff, it aims for international elegance, and succeeds in charging far higher prices than any other Vietnamese restaurant. The cooking is fine, though fusion makes some intrusion into the traditional Vietnamese roll call, and elevates a meal and prices well above the norm. Hence soft-shell crab with pomelo and mizuna salad, alongside pho bo (beef and noodle soup with beansprouts, herbs, lime and chilli). Baked cod comes flavoured with tamarind and five-spice, sautéed beef with lime. Three courses with wine could cost £40. Set lunch is £12.50.

Huong-Viet, An Viet House, 12-14 Englefield Road, London N1 (020-7249 0877). Daily lunch and dinner. Improbably located in a former laundry and baths on the Islington/Hackney borders, this began life as a canteen attached to a community centre for Vietnamese refugees, and has been all but appropriated by the denizens. Obscure position and lack of immediate competition aren't its only draws; it's the food - very fresh, especially because of the fast turnover, and quickly and cheerfully served - that really does it, plus the BYO policy and some round tables that lend themselves to convivial groups. Surefire hits from the menu include cool and crunchy goi cuon, the rice paper wrapped rolls filled with vermicelli, lettuce, herbs and prawns; and mixed seafood special with squid, prawns and scallops on vermicelli, beansprouts and cucumber - with rice and pickles for only £5.50.

Little Saigon, 139 Westminster Bridge Road, London SE1 (020-7207 9747). Mon-Fri lunch and dinner, Sat, Sun dinner. Most people opt for the £18 set at this family-run diner in the shadow of Waterloo Station. The menu kicks off with the usual spring rolls, Vietnamese style, which are smaller and more refreshingly filled with mint and vermicelli than the Chinese versions. Crystal rolls employ the same way of wrapping, but the material used is damp semi-translucent rice paper around a filling that combines crunch, crispness and succulence. To follow there's Hanoi chicken, chilli beef, prawn curry or beef flavoured with lemongrass.

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