The closest I’ve gotten to visiting Vietnam involved a 13 day trip to Thailand where one girl fell through a burning ring of fire, another missed her flight because she was busy buying an adapter in Boots and I ended up stranded in the Middle East for 24 hours. Although I’d love to impulsively buy a flight outta here for another string of unfortunate/hilarious events, MAM - Notting Hill’s newest Vietnamese restaurant - served as the next best thing to discovering a bit about the country, minus the hefty price tag.
If you've heard of DesignMyNight’s Associate Editor, Katie Houghton, you’d know that she’s obsessed with plants. Her home is covered in them, she wrote a channel on the best bars for plant lovers in London and the gal's even got a few inked onto her skin because...YOLO. Stepping into this 40-cover restaurant, she was the first thing that popped into my head.
MAM (pronounced ‘mum’) is split into two areas: the bar features light washed wooden booths for two, which is where we sat for our meal, and the dining room conservatory. Scattered with frames, plump cushions and a small tide of tables, the conservatory is given an extra surge of life with large leafy plants, hanging baskets of greenery and cacti in pretty marble-effect pots. Although the foliage is probably the main highlight of this space, the area in general has an airy, authentic feel to it thanks to the use of calming, beachy colours, wooden beams and natural light. So, Katie if you're reading this - you might want to update that bar bucket list of yours for 2018.
The Food and Drinks
MAM’s menu is split into four different sections - Vietnamese BBQ, An Choi, Pho and Com. An Choi are small to medium-sized dishes suited for sharing, and on the night we visited, a little birdy told us that the spicy dumplings (£7.20) and the fish sauce wings (£6.50) were favourites amongst their returning customers. Believing in the saying that ‘majority rules’, we ordered one of each. The chicken wings were a five star choice presented in a crispy batter, smothered in a sticky and sweet, moreish sauce. Leaving only a bowl of bones behind, I can assure you that they’re some of the best wings I’ve had in London. On the other hand, the dumplings were wholesome, packed with chicken and prawns carrying a tear-inducing heat after each bite thanks to the pool of spicy chilli oil they came drizzled in. Eager to get a proper taste of Vietnamese cooking, we also ordered the banh xeo (£9.50). This pancake dish is a savoury crepe made with rice flour, and MAM lets you choose from the addition of either chicken and prawns or tofu. Light and surprisingly filling, it wasn’t as flavoursome as the other starter-style dishes we chowed down, but it was comforting and generous in portion.
When it comes to ordering, there’s nothing wrong with being overambitious, but take my advice when I say three dishes from MAM’s An Choi section is more than enough to satisfy an empty stomach. Although you’re bound to feel some FOMO looking at the menu, I’d recommend going for a handful of these or skipping straight to the Pho and Com options. Waiting a while to get over our minor food coma, we were served the heo (£11.50) and the ca (£12) from the Com section of the menu. These are both rice-led dishes and come served with half a boiled egg, but I found my slab of braised pork to be dented with more fat than meat. Having said that, the combination of Vietnamese herbs, cucumber, pickles, peanuts and fried shallots alongside the nuoc cham dressing brought a rainbow of colour and flavour to the dish, even if the meat wasn't up to scratch.
Drink-wise, MAM have everything you’d ever need - Vietnamese beer, wine, spirits and a couple of pages dedicated to cocktails. Going for a bottle of house white with our meal, we tried the summerset bramble before any corks were popped. This mix was their own take on the classic bramble, made with vodka, fresh berries, casis and a (surprising) splash of cider. Summery and way too easy to drink, they ought to consider putting this limited edition special on their permanent menu.
Although MAM didn’t blow me away with their jasmine rice based dish with braised pork, the medium-sized dishes that are designed for sharing did; and if they're anything to go by, I'll not be booking my next month's wages on a flight to Vietnam for the ridiculous stories, I’ll be booking it for the food.