We are simultaneously closing in on Missenden Road and a holiday in Fiji. I know which one I am looking forward to most.
Tonight it is just the two of us again and we have a weird role-reversal start to the evening. I find Strop in the front bar of the Marly, surrounded by noisy Waratah’s fans watching the big screens, looking ever so slightly pissed off as she finishes her beer. She can’t wait to get out of the pub so it looks like I’m missing out on my weekly instalment of Dogbolter and rugby. “Why didn’t you go out into the back, there’s a new girly, gardeny, bistro bar?” I ask as we cross Missenden Road. “I didn’t know it was there,” is the answer. It is going to be that kind of night, I mean who goes to a pub and doesn’t check out the back bar? Apart from Strop, obviously.
Rice Paper is mostly empty when we arrive, but fills up while we are there. It is only a couple of years old and the room is very modern and stylish in a Freedom Furniture kind of way, but the decor is somewhat let down by the detailing – our menus are held together by cable ties. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of the adaptive powers of the cable tie. I once built an air raid shelter for our dog out of electrical conduit and cable ties. No, it’s just the context, you wouldn’t bat and eyelid if cable ties made an appearance at Thai La-Ong but here they let the side down a bit. The service is attentive though, so we quickly order before I dash across the road to get a bottle of plonk.
The unwritten law of nominal determinism means that we have to have rice paper rolls – there are four varieties on offer – 3 seasonal types and 1 geographic. We opt for the geographic option as it is named after Nha Trang, a town we have actually been to on the coast of Vietnam. We stayed there in a Stalinist version of a seaside resort. It was where I ripped the arse out of my Speedo’s accompanying the young Stropolina down a water slide so old that the terrazzo surface at the bottom of the slide had been eroded to an exposed-aggregate finish by the chemical laden water. The top was perfectly smooth allowing me to accelerate in the expected manner, but at the bottom I kept going into the pool while most of my costume stayed hooked up on the little bits of stone embedded in the slide. So of course I have fond memories of Nha Trang.
For mains we order Vietnamese Chicken Lemongrass Chilli from the Only-@-Rice-Paper part of the menu and some stir fried seasonal veges and steamed rice from the Same-As-Everywhere-Else part. Disappointingly the Vietnamese restaurant version of number 37,Rau mung, is a seasonal vegetable, just not this season.
When I get back with the Pinot Gris the entrées have just arrived. Strop and I chat about work frustrations while we attack the food, coming to the conclusion that if work was fun they wouldn’t have to pay you to do it. The Nha Trang rolls come with tasty little squares of charred meat balanced on top and a nice chilli and nut sauce. These are quickly disposed of and replaced by the mains. The chicken is nice enough but the vegetables are coated in an oyster sauce which is entirely unnecessary. Oh well.
“It wasn’t that good was it?” says Strop as we leave, running for a bus to take us to Enmore Road and the promise of an award winning gelato joint. This turns out to be the best part of the evening, but as it was not on King Street I can’t tell you about it.
Next it is Mad Pizza e Bar, which we have mixed feelings about. It recently replaced Slice and Ice which was our preferred gelato dispensary until it fell foul of The Churn. But we will try to approach our plates with open minds and hearts.