N.B. It’s not a bike shop.
It doesn’t take a marketing expert to work out that The Hanoi Bike Shop isn’t the best name for a restaurant. However, this bike shop/restaurant ambiguity hasn’t stopped this new Vietnamese ‘canteen’ just off Byres Road – where Stravaigin 2 used to be, though still run by the same lot – packing out every evening. So what with all the hype and the fact that I just spent a month in Vietnam so think myself quite an expert on this cuisine (yes, I know I’m being a prat), I decided to see what all the fuss was about and check out the authenticity of the place.
Walking in, you’re instantly hit with the quirky charm you come to expect from small west-end places. With bright colours, clever bike themed décor and cosy tables and stools, it’s obvious that the owners – not Vietnamese but well-travelled apparently – wanted to take the time to make this somewhere special. The menu is also very welcoming with a vast range of student-friendly choices at £5/6. This price covers ‘Street Food’, which was always a bit hit and miss over in Vietnam – will I catch salmonella, will I not – but is extremely tasty here. They’ve tried to fit in as much of the real deal as they can with yummy egg pancakes with pork and shrimp, and fresh spring rolls that are a world away from the crispy deep fried parcels of mystery so often found in British-Asian restaurants. Make sure you also get some of the peanut and chilli dip –a couple of quid well spent.
For £7/8 you can get more meaty pot dishes such as curry with chicken or the vegetarian option: aubergine and their big-deal homemade tofu. I’ve never quite been one to understand the purpose of tofu as anything other than strange squidgie squares of little purpose, and I’m sad to report that this experience – homemade and organic as it may have been – didn’t really sway me. Nevertheless, I gobbled up the aubergine quite happily and tofu-lovers will no doubt have a wail of a time.
Elsewhere on the menu is ‘pho’: a noodle broth with strips or meat and lashings of herbs and beansprouts; the cheapest thing available in Vietnam, and yet puzzlingly the most expensive option here. Although you get an enormous bowl, there’s not an awful lot of meat and noodles to go round if you’re sharing everything in true Vietnamese style, so it’s not really the best value for money. However, what with such tasty street food, specials and ‘banh mi’ lunchtime sandwiches – a nice reminder of the mark French colonialism left in Vietnam – let’s brush over that one…
Ultimately, most of the authentic staples are there. As are prawn crackers, which arguably aren’t the most common Vietnamese snack but such a crowd pleaser who even cares. What with the tasty cheap delights, handy late opening hours (open past midnight Thursday to Saturday), friendly staff in town and quirky, busy atmosphere, they’re onto a winner. They’re just not going to fix your bike for you, sorry.
The Hanoi Bike shop is located on 8 Ruthven Lane, 0141 334 7165.