But it was this discovery that made me want to sing with the in-my-head-I'm-Whitney-before-Bobby voice, from every rooftop. For our dear West Hampstead high street is soon to be graced with a new and exciting Vietnamese restaurant, called Ladudu.
Let me paint the picture behind this feverish excitement. We in cosy NW6 have a number of cute and welcoming bistros and casual eateries. Mostly Italian oriented, gastropubby and coffee shops. What we don't have, are good Asian places. Locals will name Banana Tree as the long-standing staple Pan-Asian, but after that we're trotting over to Swiss Cottage for Singapore Garden and sprinkling of good Japanese spots (Atari-ya, Taro etc). Let's face it, there isn't much in this category to rave about.
This will all change soon. I met Teresa Le, the cheerful owner and chef at Ladudu...
Where it all began: Teresa was born in Vietnam, leaving for Sydney at the young age of 7. Learning to cook from generations within her family, she was a very competent home cook by the time she reached high school.
When she came to London Teresa hankered for home cooking and authentic Vietnamese cooking, like most of us hungry Asians. Even the famed eateries on Kingsland Road in Shoreditch could not meet her cravings for The Real Thing. She had high restaurant standards instated from the large Vietnamese community in Sydney. Finding authentic ingredients, such as Vietnamese Mint in London was her other nightmare. She soon found her window-sill was large enough for a few homegrown sprigs. Experimentation and creativity led her to new techniques which meant she was able to achieve the flavours she wanted with limited resources.
Ladudu was born when after nearly 10 years of working in that familiar ol' rat race, she decided it was time to live her love for food and passion to teach others about Vietnamese cuisine. Starting out with private cooking classes and corporate team building activities, the opportunity to open her own restaurant came along somewhat unexpectedly. And luckily for her (and for us here in NW), so did a restaurant space.
Ladudu is Vietnamese for "papaya leaf". The restaurant will offer Teresa's signature dishes, focusing on authentic and "this-reminds-me-of-my-Vietnamese-grandma's" favourites. For those unfamiliar with cuisine from this part of the world, all Ladudu staff will leap to answer questions and provide suggestions. There will be a lounging area for casual cups of Vietnamese coffee (I'm told this stuff is strong!), and a map of Vietnam showing origin of Vietnamese ingredients. There are also plans to open a small shop selling these elusive foodstuffs should you want to try your own hand at say, a Summer Roll.
Sign me up to this great crusade to instill the Vietnamese palate onto North West London and beyond! In Teresa's words, it's not just food it's an experience. I'll be singing it loud and proud Sunshine-style till those new flavours and aromas arrive. Ladudu aims to open on February 18th 2011 on West End Lane, West Hampstead. For more updates, you can find Ladudu on Twitter @ladudufood and Facebook. And of course on Hungry Female.
Image from www.ladudu.com