Word on the street - a good place to look for authentic Asian food
THERE is something slightly illicit and even potentially dangerous about eating real street food in Asia, but this is a major part of its charm. Anyone who has travelled in Asia is strongly advised by guide books and hotel staff to avoid it, if they don't want to spend the rest of the holiday recovering from salmonella or botulism.
I have never had such qualms and have survived so far with only the odd tummy upset.
When I heard about Neon Asian Street Food, which opened recently on Camden Street, I was genuinely excited, but also a little pessimistic -- could the dishes on offer reflect the best aspects of actual street food?
It was time to call the Foodie Boss, who knows as much about this food as anyone, and put Neon to the test.
Neon is laid out with one large communal table in the centre of the room and smaller tables at the side. You order your food at the main counter from a relatively extensive menu of classics from Southeast Asia, which are then delivered to your table in takeaway cartons.
The room was buzzing with lots of coming and going from staff and customers and lots of pretty people to observe.
Service is friendly and efficient, but Neon is set up like a takeaway with seats, rather than a restaurant, so expect to find your own glasses and cutlery.
Neon's 'starter plate for two' consisted of skewered chicken, spring rolls and prawns in filo pastry with dipping sauces of sweet chilli, peanut sauce and plum sauce. These tasted perfectly fine but were also perfectly unadventurous, so we quickly began investigating our soups.
My Vietnamese Pho -- the classic beef and noodle soup which is considered an art form in Vietnam -- was quite unlike any that I have tasted before but, sadly, not in a good way. It was not unpleasant to eat, but resembled a dense, dark beef stew with noodles rather than the light, fresh spicy soup I know and love. This is a pho (or foe, as the Boss suggested) that is best avoided.
Tom Yum Goong is a classic hot and sour Thai soup, and we were pleased to find that Neon's version was almost flawless. Packed with juicy sweet prawns and large slices of galangal and chilli this was exactly what we were hoping for and our mood began to lighten.
Penang curry tasted of fresh coconut milk and a light meat stock with generous amounts of chilli and chicken pieces.
Mekong duck was also excellent with meaty, tasty duck and lots of Chinese greens and a rich sauce.
Our Pad Thai seemed rather bland and atypical in its mix of spices, leading us to wonder about the recipe used, and most of it went unfinished.
There are no desserts in Neon but we were presented with empty ice-cream cones and invited to help ourselves from the Mr Whippy machine.
Neon is worth a visit for the atmosphere, the (mostly) tasty Southeast Asian food and for the nostalgic treat of filling your own ice- cream cone. Just don't expect it to resemble much of what is available on the streets of Bangkok or Ho Chi Minh City.