Comedian and food fiend Jessica Fostekew puts her mouth where others fear to tread. A celebration of eating: from posh nosh to kebab shops to stuff that’s been on the floor. This week, Jess is eating by numbers.
Last Saturday I had a gig at four and another at eight, leaving the perfect time gap for me to take myself for dinner. As my journey across London to Clapham progressed, my dinner-dreaming began to increasingly involve noodles and maybe dumplings. I only had £12 on me though, so to get Asian grub I was gearing up to potentially have to treat myself to a sweaty car picnic.
Then, once I’d parked and found my second gig, with just less than an hour to spare, I saw it. Looming like an edible sunset, just throwing distance from the gig was Good Morning Vietnam. Not a discarded DVD, but a fortunately placed canteen. I say throwing distance; it was three doors away. I’ve never been great at throwing. At 13 my PE teacher noted loudly it was remarkable that I couldn’t throw further, what with me being an “absolute powerhouse.” Nothing could have insulted the pubescent pre-woman me more, but now I love thinking about that. Powerhouse. I’ll have that. And what does a powerhouse love most? A massive dinner, please.
The place’s name was incidental; there were no nods to the classic 1987 Robin Williams war-comedy. Saying that, the inside was unwittingly funny. The middle of the room was nicely and simply laid out: I sat at a real wooden table with a few nice sauces on it and took in the cheerful bustle. It was noisy but I was in the mood for somewhere lively. The edges were less artful: every wall was plastered from top to toe with terrifyingly bad photographs of food. Pap after pap of unflattering plates of ‘brown’, hundreds of them, all numbered like mug shots. Customers from all walks of life were coming and going; it was like sitting in a police station waiting room, except it smelled of amazing garlic instead of crime.
Food-wise, I got my hopes down to floor level, alongside the pictures of meals numbers 1–49. I ordered pork dumplings and Thai green chicken curry with crispy noodles. It arrived all at once and only-just-not-worryingly fast. It didn’t matter: from the taste and look of it all it had, in real life, been made to order. It was giant and delicious.
I started with dumplings. A simple salted pork and spring onion filling in a thick casing that had been steamed and then fried. I loved the accompanying sharp rice vinegar dipping sauce containing shards of ginger. They burst in your mouth, the sour vinegar slicing up the sheer juicy meatiness of the dumpling bit. Yum. If you asked me to live off dumplings for a year I wouldn’t cry. And believe me, I’m pregnant; I fucking cry at everything.
“It was like sitting in a police station waiting room, except it smelled of amazing garlic instead of crime.”
I sat quite near the counter so I got to enjoy some of the local characters dropping in for chats. One lady with, shall we say, more than eight bags came in and asked the poor lady taking her order to describe in acute detail every single rice dish on the menu. “You say there’s chicken in this one? But how much chicken? How many bits?” The staff dealt with it patiently and perfectly. I nearly spat a noodle out though when she asked, “I see you do special fried rice. Answer me this? How is it special?” The staff giggled and were eventually forced to admit it was really just normal, mortal rice.
My noodles were pretty standard, too, but then they’d never purported to be deluxe. The noodles themselves were scrumdiddlumptious. Crunchy, crispy and then soggier on impact with the sauce.
The sauce was pretty excellent, for the price. I was fearing that watery grey slop you get in tins of Thai curry and was really surprised. It was thick and full of flavour and spice; it made my nose happily run from the first try. It wasn’t ‘proper’, I couldn’t pick out lemongrass or detect that it had even been made with real coconut milk, but it was lovely nonetheless. The curry consisted of tasty big chunks of crunchy onion, green and red peppers and suspiciously neat pieces of chicken. Again, I’d mildly dreaded it just being those indiscernible flecks of grey you sometimes get in takeaways.
It came in at just over a tenner. When I paid I got a complimentary cherry Chewit. A beautifully odd touch. I’ll put Good Morning Vietnam in the same fond bit of my memory tank as a B&B I stayed in in Grimsby once, where waiting for me on the pillow was a Freddo.
The food performed well in its category. For takeaway prices at takeaway speeds it was better than takeaway food often is. It was never going to change my life. It was fresh, massive and brazenly spicy even if it wasn’t quite ‘special’.
Good Morning Vietnam, 17 St Johns Hill, London, SW11 1TN
Tel: 0207 350 0001
Open: 11.30am – 11.30pm
Accessibility: It’s all on one floor and it’s not too cramped. But, be warned, there are no toilets at all, let alone accessible ones.
Jessica Fostekew is a writer, comedian, actor, law degree-waster, sister, daughter and beard-fan with an unabashed food infatuation.