To paraphrase Katie Melua, there are pure gazillions of bicycles in Beijing.
Same goes for Vietnam, where cars and motorbikes have now taken over, but travelling and working on two wheels remains part of the cultural heritage.
However, don’t expect to find actual chamois cream or I Love My Bike bells at Hanoi Bike Shop, a Vietnamese street food restaurant that’s situated down a side street in Glasgow’s west-end.
Opened by the bods behind Stravaigin (recently awarded a Michelin Bib Gourmand), and the Ubiquitous Chip, it’s in the former premises of what was once their branch of Stravaigin 2.
Inside, and it’s like an art student has been given £400 and a theme. There’s a large display of spanners, seat backings made from disassembled bicycle baskets, and a collection of rusty wheels on saffron yellow walls.
The tables are furnished with plastic baskets, filled with all the eating equipment you might need – Sriracha and soy sauces, chopsticks, paper napkins and ceramic spoons.
From the neat menu, which offers banh mi for lunch (a baguette sarnie loaded up with various fixings), we went for three options from the Street Food section as starters of sorts.
They make their own tofu here, which may be why the three beefy cubes of sa dau phu rau tron (£4.50) were so boingily-textured and fresh tasting. Sometimes tofu tastes like a drink of water, but these had a zesty zing of lemongrass on their crisp coating.
However, I was mostly loving this option’s vibrant side salad, which featured mint leaves, vermicelli, grated carrot and sesame seeds.
Our other two dishes were equally joyous.
Bo la lot (£5) sounds like a character from In the Night Garden, but consisted of five skewered parcels of minced beef swaddled in dried betel leaf, topped with desiccated peanuts. These pods were smoky, peppery and pleasingly charred tasting, with a hot and sweet chilli dip on the side.
Apparently, betel leaf is a mild stimulant, which may be why I felt as if I would’ve traded in my dining partner in a heartbeat for a month’s supply of these (though, I’d still consider a week’s worth if they want to make me an offer).
The prettiest of our starters was nem cuon tom trung (£4.50) – rice paper summer rolls. This cool, cigar-shaped duo were stuffed with pastel-coloured contents of fat prawns, coriander, omelette strips, vermicelli and spring onions, all of which were only just visible through their transparent skins.
This place proves that you don’t always need a muckle pat of butter to create something delectable.
When it came to the Pho section of the menu, we went for the classic version (£9) which consisted of a deep black bowlful of elemental marrow-bone broth.
We liked this au-naturale, with noodles, bean sprouts, crispy garlic and slices of beef, all floating in the brew.
Although, if you want to adjust the flavour, you could add something from this option’s accompanying side plate, which featured a wedge of lemon, aniseedy Thai basil, chilli and coriander.
Last up, from the From the Pot section of the menu – the cha ca (£8), not to be confused with the cha-cha, as performed by a tearful Victoria Pendleton on this year’s Strictly Come Dancing.
This dish consisted of coley pieces, which were slicked in a turmeric and peanut sauce and teamed with whiskery brushes of dill and struts of asparagus.
The puddings of the day were set lime cream (£5) and coconut tart (£5).
The former was a pot of smooth citrus posset, presented alongside a ramekin that contained a salad of pineapple, mint and vanilla syrup, as well as a couple of crisp sable biscuits.
The tart, meanwhile, featured a thick and crispy pastry topped by a jammy plateau and another layer of chewy coconutty macaroonyness. Great stuff.
This place, one of the handful of Vietnamese restaurants in Scotland, is rather marvellous. If you stumble upon it while looking for an actual bike shop, you’ll soon forget that you needed new spokey dokeys.
Hanoi Bike Shop
8 Ruthven Lane, Glasgow (0141-334 7165, www.thehanoibikeshop.co.uk
Dinner for two, excluding drinks, £41
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Friday 24 May 2013
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