The beef pho at Cay Tre’s Soho branch is consistently good. Pho (pronounced ‘fuh’) is a soup noodle dish, made with soup stock that’s clear in the Hanoi style – and which tastes intensely of beef marrowbone. The rice noodles are sheer; herbs decorate the surface. A side dish of saw-leaf, Asian basil, fresh chilli and beansprouts is provided to stir in: a nice authentic touch.
One of our top ten dishes Koya’s springy wheat noodles are made on the premises every day, and have remained consistently excellent since the place opened in 2010. Our favourite dish has to be the vegan ‘walnut miso’ udon: a ‘why didn’t I think of that?’ combination of intense nuttiness, in which sweet-salty red and white misos are mixed with walnut purée. Dissolve a small spoonful of the powerful paste mixture into the soup for each mouthful. Toppings might include seasonal mushrooms or hispi cabbage. Tip: it’s even better if you add the onsen tamago (literally ‘hot-spring egg’, slow-cooked) into the mix.
Modest Mandalay is currently the only ambassador for Burmese food in London. It’s small, but well up to the job of championing this singular culinary style, which takes influences from Chinese, Thai and Indian cooking. Try the khow suey, a soup-noodle dish made from egg noodles with a curried meat sauce (usually chicken). Similar to a Malaysian laksa, it hits several high notes at the same time, particularly the spice, sweet and sour flavours. A big bowlful with chicken and vegetables costs just £6.50, and like everything else at Mandalay, is great value as well as super-tasty.
Kiwi-born chef Peter Gordon became the king of fusion while still at the Sugar Club, and arguably he remains London’s master of pick’n’mix cooking. Laksa – the spicy noodle soup from the Malaysian peninsula – has long been used by Gordon as a starting point in his creations. But what you won’t find in Penang or Singapore is a dish like smoked coconut and tamarind (assam) laksa with a fish dumpling, Japanese soba (buckwheat) noodles, soft-boiled quail’s egg, crispy shallots and coriander. That’s a lot of action on the taste buds, but curiously, it works.
Samarqand is a city forever at a crossroads, where dishes echo those of Turkey, China and, more recently, Russia. Celebrating the food of contemporary Uzbekistan, this smart operation is decorated in a five-star-hotel style of expensive dark wood and mood lighting. Plov (a close relative of pilau) is prepared the Uzbek way, correctly glistening with so much fat it resembles stir-fried rice. But the dish that makes the place uniquely Uzbek is the lagman noodles, freshly made and served in a simple beef and vegetable broth. The venue is often used as a karaoke restaurant by wealthy Russians, so dine early to avoid the noise.