Kelly Bishop puts on a pho cardigan at this little Vietnamese cafe
I’m a big fan of my own company. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I love a massive meal with a group of mates, laughter ricocheting off the rafters as we cram food into our faces. I love a one-to-one with a bestie over copious wines as we compete for who has the most to complain about. I love a date night, somewhere low-lit, lots of eye contact. I even sometimes have a nice time at social events with the colleagues I’m absolutely sick of the sight of. But a solo lunch or dinner might actually be my favourite way to dine out.
With tough competition from the very popular Renshaw Street Market that has moved in next door, Doux Chaton may be in danger of being overlooked
Some of the many upsides are that you can concentrate all your energy on deepening your relationship with food, you don’t need to police the crumbs, slurps or your pace of eating, you don’t need to order your second choice of dish because someone else has ordered your first (and it’s simply not acceptable to order the same thing), and any conversation is between you and you and can happen inside your noggin. The downside is you don’t get to try as many different things. This might win me some haters, but I’m someone you don’t want to go for food with if you’re not willing to share everything you order. I like to think it’s cos I’m all about communal food, plonk a big pot on the table and loads of sides and let everyone dig in. But really I just have serious issues with food FOMO.
Speaking of communal, this gives me an opportunity to flaunt my admittedly minor credentials when it comes to Vietnamese food. I spent a month travelling up and down the long skinny country with my pal Phuc, Ho Chi Minh city born and bred, she showed me everything from fleshy foetal duck eggs to sweet ca phe sua da to enormous fresh jackfruit being hacked open and bagged up on the roadside for passers by. She also took the piss out of me for the weird English convention of having “your own private plate” at dinner. None of that nonsense in Vietnam, she said, everybody shares here.
I love Vietnamese food, it’s light and fresh (for the most part) with layers of carefully constructed but subtle flavour. They take fish sauce seriously there, with enough different types to choose from to make a cat swoon, flavours varying from North to South. There is also copious use of fresh and fragrant herbs. A big yes from me.
Behind the simple red restaurant front of Doux Chaton is a buzzy, bright cafe, one whole wall a chalkboard covered with emphatically scrawled customer reviews, a wooden trellised ceiling with wicker lanterns and faux foliage dangling. There is a mix of groups and solo diners here all happily slurping steaming noodles. I’m quickly welcomed to a table by a smiling staff member.
Summer rolls (AKA fresh spring rolls) may not be for everyone, the sticky, cadaverous texture of damp rice paper can be divisive, but they’re always on my summer snacks mixtape. Doux Chaton’s (£4.90) are very subtly flavoured as is the norm (that’s what the dipping sauce is for) but I expected a little more punch from the pork. Iceberg lettuce - rather than the soft kind that is more commonly used - and cucumber accompany rice noodles to make up the bulk of the filling. A decent but not mind-blowing amuse-bouche.
Pho comes in two size options, and if my pho bò (£8) counts as a small bowl, then the large ones for £2.50 more must be the size of a jackfruit. The 24-hour beef bone broth is the main thing and it did what it should: made me feel like I was putting on a warm, kitten-soft cardigan. You know that bit in films where someone goes through some long ordeal and at the end of it they are shown recuperating and being nursed back to health with soup? That’s what a good pho should do for you and this one did. Full of nutrients and deep flavour, you really can’t beat it when you’re feeling under the weather.
I love the interactive nature of this dish too, you can throw as much or as little from the side plate of fresh birdseye chill (be careful!), beansprouts, herbs, lime juice, fish sauce, soy or chilli sauce in as you wish. A little bowl of pickled shredded veg (£2) and a passionfruit and lychee bubble tea (£3.50) add vitamin C sparkle to my eyes and I feel ready to face the world again. There’s “naughty” bubble tea with booze here too if you’re that way inclined.
"Doux chaton" means “sweet kitten” in French, and French colonialism had stamped its mark on Vietnamese cuisine, most notably in the famous banh mi - a fluffy baguette spread with pate then topped with sliced pork (or other meats), crunchy shredded veg and sweet herbs. It’s one of the world’s best butties. I, unfortunately, didn’t have the stomach capacity to try the ones at Doux Chaton but I’ll be heading back.
With tough competition from the very popular Renshaw Street Market that has moved in next door, Doux Chaton may be in danger of being overlooked like the less playful kitten in the litter. But don’t make that mistake, it’s a buzzy little spot perfect for solo dining or bringing a bunch of friends. The staff are absolutely delightful too. This is one sweet kitten I’d take home over the more boisterous ones any day and it's a bonus that the prices are more rescue kitten than pedigree.
Pho bo 8, summer rolls 6.5, pickled salad 6.5
Super friendly and happy to box up leftovers
Buzzy and relaxed