Lan Zhou Noodle Bar, London

i cannot believe i it took me 2.5 years to discover this hidden gem right in the heart of leicester square; if i had known of it earlier, i’m sure i’d have spent many a cold night there slurping up oodles of noodles, elbow to elbow with other hungry patrons of this hole-in-the-wall…

it was a cold and rainy day and having just ticked one off the london bucket list by ice skating at somerset house, my ravenous friends and i decided that a large bowl of piping hot noodles sounded really, really good. so off to lan zhou la mian we trooped!

lan zhou la mian is not a shop i would venture into if it wasn’t recommended to me by friends – their shop window is filled with trays of (if i may say) dubious-looking extremely brightly-coloured ready-to-eat hot food (think mr wu’s chinese restaurant eat-all-you-can-buffet-style food that always makes me upset because i hate that it would make some people who don’t know any better think that that is all chinese food is about – fried spring rolls, lemon chicken and “singapore noodles” (the most offensive thing ever!!!)) and given how it is so well-located just a stone’s throw away from leicester square tube station, it appeared to me to be the type of shop that serves sub-standard chinese fare at cheap prices. we couldn’t have been more wrong though, and hurrah for that!

venture into the little shop and you will find (1) an almost 100% chinese clientele (a sure sign of its legitimacy) and (2) a chef hard at work making noodles before your very eyes! needless to say, i was ultra excited – the last time i had fresh hand-pulled noodles was about 3 months ago in sunny singapore, its taste quickly becoming a fading memory in my mind…
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they have an extensive menu that includes a range of cooked dishes and cold and hot appetisers, but we were there for the noodles, and that alone left us spoilt for choice. besides all the different types of noodles they have, you can get them all soup/dry/fried, and you can choose how thick you want the noodles to be. there are countless permutations and combinations that will be made-to-order just for you:20141205_140946

the aforementioned friends who recommended this place highly recommended the beef noodles, so the stewed beef la mian soup is what every single one of the 4 of us opted for. the noodles took quite a while to arrive (one would expect faster service using all the other casual chinatown eating spots as benchmarks) and the waiting time was exacerbated by the fact that it was 2.30pm and we (or maybe just me) had just done the most exercise we’d done all year by skating for an hour.

words cannot express my utter delight when a huge bowl of piping hot noodles was placed before me some 15-20 minutes later:
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mid-way through the monstrous bowl
we couldn’t have been happier with our huge bowls of noodles (#asiankidsforever). the broth was thick, tasty and flavourful, and the beef brisket was tender, well-seasoned and added in generous amounts. note the addictive chilli oil in the picture that was added in copious amounts for that extra spicy punch, making this bowl of soupy goodness even more satisfying than it already was on its own. as for the noodles, i was sold after taking my first bite. you could tell they were definitely freshly-made (the waiting time was warranted after all) – bouncy, springy and cooked for just the right amount of time to give it the perfect bite. i could not stop enthusing about the texture of the noodles as i made my way slowly but steadily through the huge bowl. soon it was all gone and i ain’t gonna lie, i was a little sad (as i tend to be when i have nothing left on my plate that previously contained a mountain of all things delicious).

at just £6.50, this bowl of goodness was like a warm, comforting hug on a cold winter’s day, and i will certainly jump at any chance to return. mega plus points for the fact that it opens till the wee hours of the morning (5am on saturdays?! truly a #rarespecimen in london), so this is certainly a place to visit when you’re in need of a late-night supper or desperately need to satisfy a sudden intense craving for oodles of noodles before bedtime. love me some la mian!!!

Lan Zhou La Mian (Noodle Bar)
33 Cranbourn Street
London WC2H 7AD

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Banh Mi Bay, London

i was really impressed by the takeaway i got from banh mi bay’s outlet along rathbone place (off charlotte street) last term, so it was with pretty high hopes that i checked out their sit-down branch at holborn last week. am glad to say that those hopes were not dashed!

paid their outlet along theobalds road a visit on a friday night around 8, and it was packed (and rightly so)! we joined the queue for a table and thankfully did not have to wait long before we were ushered to one. the restaurant isn’t very big, but definitely has sufficient tables for a relatively fast turnaround time i believe! service after being seated was not great though (water only came at the end of our meal after we had asked multiple times since the beginning); but i guess that is to be expected of somewhere so popular and crowded on a friday night.
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the menu was too extensive and spread out over too many pages for me to take pictures of, but i snapped some shots of their takeaway menu scrawled on blackboards (note the super reasonable takeaway prices; the dine-in prices are a little more but still very reasonable!):
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having just visited hanoi over the christmas break, i was super excited to see banh xeo (this amazing super thin crispy pancake) on the menu – it was by far my family’s favourite food discovery of our trip! didn’t order it at banh mi bay this time though, because it felt more like a summer rolls-kind of night 😉 (but i will definitely be back to try the banh xeo).

we ordered a serving of summer rolls to share, and i had a bun vermicelli noodle salad with chargrilled pork (another of my favourites in hanoi) while my friend had the rare beef pho. the food came quickly which was great because we were pretty hungry by then and the amazing smell of viet food in the air did nothing to quell our stomachs’ complaints.

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summer rolls – £4.40

the summer rolls were nothing outstanding or exceptional, but were certainly a good rendition of a traditional vietnamese appetiser. as summer rolls should be, they were light and extremely clean-tasting, stuffed with fresh ingredients (sliced pork, tiger prawns, lettuce, rice vermicelli, vietnamese herbs) and wrapped in soft skin. the prawns in the rolls were fresh, sweet and juicy, while the skin was thin and soft but not wet. safe to say that our summer rolls craving was successfully satisfied!

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bun vermicelli noodle salad with chargrilled garlic pork – £7.50

i had an amazing bowl of something similar to this in hanoi (bun bo nam bo), from this hole-in-the-wall stall that just sold that one dish, and was the proud recipient of a tripadvisor certificate of excellence. have been craving it ever since, and was quite pleased to find that banh mi bay does a decent version of it, especially considering the fact that we are miles and miles away from hanoi. firstly it must be highlighted that the bowl was HUGE. not sure if you can tell from the picture, but it was really rather big and full of vietnamese goodness! you pour the sauce (like a salad dressing) all over the noodle and mix everything together to give you this:
20140117_200731okay i realise it doesn’t look super appetising, but trust me, it is good stuff. and really healthy too! plenty of veggie and so light and clean-tasting, but certainly not lacking in meat too. the chargrilled pork with garlic was delicious – it was tender, super well-marinated and so very tasty, and they were really generous with the amount they gave. in fact, i finished most of the vegetables and noodle even before i finished the pork! which is not usually the case, but i’m definitely not complaining. i would have liked more peanuts for that added crunch, but besides that, this was definitely good enough to make me a happy girl. really worth it for the price – i can see why banh mi bay has appeared so many times on lists of cheap eats in london!

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rare beef pho – £7.50

my friend ordered the rare beef pho and again i think its not very clear in the photo, but the serving was BIG. the bowl was pretty huge and they were generous with both the pho as well as the beef. the beef was thinly sliced and tender, but the piping hot soup was definitely the highlight of the dish – light and extremely tasty, and not too oily or heavy in taste at all. the perfect dish for a cold winters night!

they didn’t have any very exciting desserts so our meal ended there, but we were still more than satisfied with dinner and its huge servings of legit vietnamese fare! love how there’s a takeaway outlet so close to me; its the perfect place to pick up yummy lunch as a mid-day pick-me-up 🙂 i’ve tried the bay special baguette before (pate, spiced pork and pork roll) and i remember it as being pretty delicious too!

oh and my friend who i had all this yummy food with was leaving for glasgow the next day and wanted to take away dinner from there to have on the train… i think banh mi bay’s definitely just earned themselves another fan 😉

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Banh Mi Bay

4-6 Theobalds Road, Holborn
London WC1X 8PN20140117_194425

ps. good food is always made even better with great company:
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soul sister/partner-in-crime/the straw to my berry/the apple to my pie