16, Nelson Road, SE10,
I’ve not been doing much restaurant reviewing recently. A combination of Really Busy and credit crunch have meant sticking with old favourites rather than venturing out anew.
Which is probably very silly. A few places that I once raved about have been slowly sliding – or have had new ownership that has traded on the name whilst dropping standards.
So, after a frankly dull curry from what used to be Caffe Massala (a strange combination of sugary and un-spicy) and a non-curry from Raan (now a Greenwich Inc joint selling the same sort of bland stuff it sells everywhere else), I decided it was time to get back on the trail of new places to eat.
I was tipped-off about the newly spruced-up Saigon by Luke, who told me that despite its unpromising appearance (it has that same half-baked ‘almost-trendy’ look that most of Greenwich’s cheap eateries have) the food was good.
It’s true. The place isn’t going to win any prizes for pretty. It’s been simply kitted-out – plain walls, red plush ‘banqueting’ chairs, dark melamine tables with condiments very obviously from See Woo’s catering section and a rather odd grey brick wall at the back of the surprisingly-spacious back room. The whole thing’s brightened with the usual gang of gaudy porcelain characters from all-purpose Far Eastern mythology. The lighting’s somewhere between intimate and canteen.
But I warmed to this place as soon as I stepped inside. It was clean and fresh, it had proper diners in (which is not a given any more in these cash-strapped times) and I was welcomed by a friendly, articulate host.
The prices are almost suspiciously low. £4.30, to be precise. For all main dishes. So whether you’re going for a Beef Flank, Roast Duck or a simple Wan Tan Soup – all you’ll pay is £4.30. And this is eat-in price, along Nelson Road, one of the priciest bits of real estate in Greenwich. Side orders are a whopping £3.30.
I had a quick look around the other diners to see what they were getting for their cash – and it looked – well – pretty good really. Big platefuls, and accompanying big smiles.
I didn’t dare try the halibut – I’m sure it’s fine but I’ve seen the prices in the Fishmonger for fresh stuff and it bothered me that this was so cheap in comparison. So I settled for a King Prawn Chow Mein. The Phantom Companion Du Jour chose the all-in Vietnamese Fried Rice.
Now. I’m not going to claim this as a gourmet spectacular. But just across the road, at Noodle Time, I was once unable to finish one of the worst meals of my life, and round the corner at Tai Won Mein I virtually couldn’t start the hideous mess I was served up after a very long wait and indifferent service. And both cost more than this, despite being classed as bargain-basement cheap-fills.
Our food arrived swiftly, was served pleasantly and appeared to have been made from decent-quality ingredients. My Chow Mein was well-flavoured and, if a little oily, I couldn’t complain about the number of good-sized, succulent prawns in it. The Phantom Companion’s fried rice came with lots of different meaty bits and bobs – and, although I noticed some experimentation with chilli dip and soy sauce, it was declared tasty and the plate was cleared.
If we’d stuck to soft drinks, our entire meal would have cost us exactly eleven quid. As it was, some Vietnamese beer ‘accidentally’ got ordered and pushed our total to a dizzying £12.60.
This is not the place to take someone for a 25th wedding anniversary meal – unless you don’t want to see your 26th. But as a cheapo place to fill up for under a fiver, (and I mean fill up – I felt rather uncomfortable after I’d stuffed away mine) I heartily recommend this over pretty much any similar joint in Greenwich. Certainly the aforementioned Noodle Time and Tai Won Mein, which vie for the dubious honour of ‘worst restaurant in Greenwich’ in my book (now that the execrable Alamo has rightly gone the way of all undercooked flesh.)
Saigon is fresh, bright and clean (even the loos are spotless,) the service is swift and charming – and it won’t break the bank. If I was into cliche, this is the point where I’d say “what’s not to like?” But I’m not, so I’ll just say ‘run it up the flagpole, suck it and see. It’s a no-brainer…’