MOC KITCHEN serving modern, healthy Vietnamese food with the liberal use of native herbs, has this month opened in Charing Cross, London.
Every day's a school day - and today I was invited to learn how important Vietnamese herbs are to their culinary story. Not only are the herbs different to our usual favourites, but with such diverse flavours and their extensive use as a raw ingredient, you're likely to experience something new, and certainly be the better for it.
What to expect when visiting a restaurant so close to the touristy parts of Trafalgar Square and The Strand? Well, usually you're guaranteed an fairly average meal, but Moc Kitchen has risen above the maddening crowd to prove you can get decent Vietnamese and you don't have to go out of your way to get it.
Run by super friendly staff, and a chef with the free-reign to do things right, Moc Kitchen provides fresh light herby rolls and heart-warming bowls of Pho with pride.
MOC Kitchen is the first restaurant venture from founder and Vietnamese born, Ms Lan Nintendo, who takes regular trips back to Vietnam to keep her menus and suppliers as close to her roots as possible; it's one of the the reasons she's keeping the interest of the foodie world so piqued!
Born and raised in Hanoi, Lan brings to London’s diners a lifetime’s knowledge of Vietnamese ingredients, native herbs and regional cooking styles.
If you've never tried Rice Paddy Herb (RAU NGO) make sure you do soon, it's like the lemon straight from a G&T, that sour sweet flavour so indicative of its Asian heritage. Yes I did just say THERE IS A G&T HERB... God I could munch that stuff all day. (No don't go making brownies out of it, that is a very different 'herb'... )
Pictured, succulent shredded beef salad with the awesome RAU NGO, from the northern part of Vietnam.
“Food is at the heart of Vietnamese culture,” says Lan. “The word ‘moc’ in Vietnamese translates as pure, wholesome, transparent and true and the food we create at MOC Kitchen captures that philosophy with dishes made from scratch every day, using fresh, vibrant ingredients infused with native, healing herbs. The area surrounding us, here in WC2 is crammed with convenience food outlets offering cold, pre-packed meals. We want to offer diners something more.”
The MOC Kitchen experience is all about casual and effortlessly healthy eating and Lan has selected herbs indigenous to Vietnam, and with specific healing properties, to incorporate into her menu.
You may not be aware just how good the ingredients are, but a great deal of care and attention have gone into creating the menu, something your health and wellbeing will love you for.
(You can cancel that detox: you just had one.)
What's more if you've no time to sit down, they do a super speedy takeaway service opposite due to the freshly prepared way they serve.
Some of the Vietnamese herbs she uses include:
Wild Betel Leaf (LA LOT) Valued both as a mild stimulant, digestive, stimulant, expectorant, carminative, anti-bacterial
Dill Weed (THI LA) Strong, distinctive taste that is like a combination of fennel, aniseed and celery, with warm, slightly astringent undertones
Vietnamese Mint (RAU RAM) Coriander on steroids!
Rice Paddy Herb (RAU NGO) Lively, fresh flavour bursting with citrus and lemon zest.
A rowdy bunch of food reviewers can at times be a challenge for a brand new venture, but Moc Kitchen took our expectant smiles and grumbly bellies in their stride; serving other customers in the restaurant whilst seamlessly attentive to everyone's needs. This shows I'm sure a level of maturity not achieved by so many London pop-ups, and really does indicate that the owner and their team are hoping to make a real mark on the area.
MOC KITCHEN MENU
Under Lan Nguyen’s direction, Head Chef, Tien Than, has created a fresh and fragrant menu offering a modern, healthy take on authentic Vietnamese cuisine.
Sample dishes include:
Hot ‘la lot’ Rolls: Grilled Lemongrass Beef wrapped in wild betel leaf £6.90
Juicy, lean beef infused with fragrant and therapeutic lemongrass is grilled till sizzling in Vietnamese betel leaves favoured for their anti-bacterial properties and as an aid to digestion
Summer Rolls: Fish, Duck, Prawn or Tofu with herbs and rice noodles £5.90
Packed with fragrant, Vietnamese healing herbs and rice noodles, perfect for dipping in sweet chilli sauce
Lotus Stem and Prawn Salad: Lotus stem, prawn, carrot, Vietnamese herbs and peanut £7.50
Fresh and light, with a little chilli warmth, the collagen-boosting lotus stem supports the immune system and is also a rich source of Vitamin C, calcium, iron and fibre
Rare Beef Mixed Salad: Medium rare beef sliced, red onion, Vietnamese herbs with sweet and sour sauce £8.90
Lean beef, sweet and crunchy red onion, fragrant, fresh native herbs
Sweet Potato Pancake with sour fish sauce £6.90
A great substitute for wheat this comes gluten-free, naturally
Grilled ‘Cha Ca’ Fish: Marinated monkfish, Vietnamese dill, spring onion, roasted peanut served with rice noodles £11.50
Generous chunks of marinated monkfish flavoured with Vietnamese dill known to be free-radical fighting and also for its anti-bacterial properties.
Note to reader, if you don't try the fish, you're missing out! With Billingsgate fish market so readily accessible, it's no wonder the monkfish is fresher than a new kid at uni... It's positively leaping off the plate at you, and fried with a deft hand for sure, not a spot of greasiness here, just juicy dill flavoured heaven.
PHO: Chicken, Beef and Fish from £8.90
Everyone’s favourite; a steaming, savoury soup bowl of comforting chicken or beef loaded with saw leaf to stave off colds, and Vietnamese basil to help prevent certain cancers, inflammation and bacterial growth.
Yup, bacterial growth prevention, you've now seen everything on a menu. But believe me, there's not much this Pho doesn't pack in, and it's more than your run of the mill soup. Lan has gone to great lengths to keep it as original as possible. Want BBQ brisket and super breardy Pho? Go to Shoreditch and stay there. This is the real deal and empty bowls around the table were testament to the fact.
How to Eat Vietnamese Herbs the Traditional Way
In the Vietnamese kitchen herbs are eaten raw, rather than cooked, as an accompaniment to foods. Bunches of herbs are placed along with lettuce leaves and diners are invited to help themselves pinching off individual leaves to add to their bowl or to tuck into a hand roll. Stems are usually discarded, although I have been known to knaw on a lemongrass stem... Perhaps that's just me... keep taking the meds right?
Tucked away under the arches off Villiers Street, MOC Kitchen’s interiors of dark woods, intimate lighting, comfy, leather banquettes and cushioned chairs conjure an authentic Vietnamese casual vibe complimented by south east Asian hospitality and service.
Or in other words, it's at The Arches by Embankment tube, and has a restaurant on one side, and take away on the other. Great location for the after work crowd, especially if you're after something more interesting than Pret!
Monday – Friday 11:00 – 22:00
Saturday 11:00 – 22:30
Sunday 11:00 – 22:30
2 The Arches, Villiers Street, Charing Cross, London WC2N 6NG
T: 020 7839 1420 | 020 7930 8789
Charing Cross Exit 2 – 1 minute’s walk
Embankment tube station – 1 minute’s walk