BBC3’s recent double whammy of ‘Growing Up Poor’ presented an unremittingly bleak, forensically detailed view of life on the margins. ‘People Like Us’ – a six-part observational docusoap set in the Manchester suburb of Harpurhey – walks on the sunnier side, inviting inevitable comparisons with ‘Shameless’ in the process. ‘I’ve never known a place with so many village idiots,’ reckons resident laundrette owner Paul.
Certainly, the denizens of Harpurhey know how to throw a party just as well as those on the Chatsworth Estate: weddings, drag shows and a trip to Magaluf form the heart of this opening instalment, with the disappointments largely personal (heartbreak, hangovers) and free of any wider socio-economic context. As a result, it feels like we’re only getting half the picture: references to how communities are replacing families as support networks, or the struggles of young David with alcoholism, are taken in isolation and Harpurhey occasionally feels close to hermetically sealed. But it’s never patronising, and rarely dull: a cast of characters this lively undoubtedly merits a return visit.
It’s not easy to love the arches under Charing Cross station; a dated, gloomy space home to cafés, key-cutters, cobblers and that old Davy’s wine bar, Champagne Charlie’s. MOC Kitchen (no, not a showroom fixture) is the new kid on the block, bringing a bit of Vietnamese vim to this dingy underpass. It’s the first instalment of what they plan to be a rollout: a second is due to open in Holborn. Strictly speaking there are already two venues here. One side of the walkway hosts a dinky café for those dining in; the other serves take away options, including banh mi made from scratch. Colourful decor, cheery staff and some lovely artwork bring some much-needed brightness to the place. Both sides were busy on our three visits, creating a bit of buzzy hubbub, too. Elements need to be honed before they ramp up the expansion – unless their aim is to create a middle-of-the-road Vietnamese restaurant chain rather than become a serious challenger to the likes of Song Que and Cay Tre. A chicken pho (steep at £8.90) had good depth but lacked clarity, and was light on ingredients - even after an extra plate of beansprouts, mint, coriander and chilli was added. A coconut chicken curry (£9.50) lacked finesse and was far too sweet. Cold options were better, especially a green papaya and prawn salad (£7.50) with a dressing that was only slightly over-sweet. Service was enthusiastic and friendly. London already does pretty well for good, cheap Vietnamese restaurants and MOC Kitchen is going t
Venue says: “Bringing Vietnam to the heart of London. A minute's walk from Embankment and Charing Cross, a cosy place for authentic Vietnamese food.”