Will West Hampstead have a rosy view of Rosa’s Thai Café?

It was Bank Holiday Monday, we were on the way back from a swim at Swiss Cottage, and feeling a bit peckish. Time to try West Hampstead’s newest kid in town – Rosa’s Thai Cafe. We were not alone. The place was pretty full when we arrived past 1pm and got even fuller over lunch.

Aurevoir Ladudu, hello Rosa's.

Au revoir Ladudu, hello Rosa’s Thai Cafe.

The team has done a quick and efficient job at refurbishing the old Ladudu, but it did feel a little corporate. The decor is a mix of industrial and Scandi-chic (Scandustrial?) with little reference to Asia, unlike Ladudu. I had to stop myself from getting up to scuff the perfect walls a bit. In the background a gentle Ibiza soundtrack. All nice enough but could have been anywhere.

The staff were nice and friendly and coping well with a busy dining room. In fact the manager later confessed that they have been busier than expected since it opened last week. Still having teething troubles though – their phone number doesn’t work, yet.

Rosa’s offers both an evening and (cheaper and simpler) weekday lunch menu, although as it was a bank holiday we were offered the main dinner menu with dishes priced slightly above that other West Hampstead stalwart, BananaTree.

Despite being busy we didn’t have to wait too long to order, or for our food to arrive. As it was a self-imposed meat-free Monday I stuck to the vegetarian options – there were plenty – ordering the chilli and Thai basil stir-fry while my dining companion ordered crispy salmon in curry sauce plus a green papaya salad and coconut rice to share. For drinks we had raw coconut water and lemongrass tea, both good and exactly what I feel like drinking when eating Asian food – different options that nearby Pham House doesn’t alas offer.

Bank holiday lunch.

Bank holiday lunch.

The menu has a good selection of dishes – some favourites (its website says that across its other eight branches Rosa’s has served over 400,000 pad thais) plus other regional dishes. The salmon was the best dish we ordered, while the stir-fry was OK but the salad lacked a bit of bite. However, the mix of flavours got better as the meal went on and we finished it all off. The bill, including service, came to just under £50 (£25 a head), which felt about right.

It's thumbs up for Rosa's.

It’s thumbs up for Rosa’s.

Thanks to Teresa for passing on the baton to Rosa’s. It was her choice of restaurant to replace Ladudu. Part of me is a little sad that chain (albeit a mini-chain) Rosa’s is able to do better what she was doing. But Rosa’s is also about the personality and both by the door and on the website you can pick up recipes from founder Saiphin so you can cook some of the dishes yourself.

The future for Rosa’s Thai Cafe in West Hampstead looks rosy.

Out with a bành: Pay what you want on Ladudu’s last day

This month West Hampstead says farewell to Ladudu, the rather good Vietnamese restaurant by the stations. We will be sad to see it go but, as you will find out, when one door closes another one opens (in fact two).

Teresa considers herself a West Hampstead local as she lives in the area – it’s her ‘hood’ as she put it. But she got here in a rather roundabout way.  Born in Vietnam she fled as child with her family in the war, and they ended up as refugees in Sydney, Australia. After university she worked in IT and decided to take advantage of a one-year visa for a working visit to the UK. That one-year trip has now stretched to twelve as she met and married her husband here.

Having lived elsewhere in London, she ended up living in West Hampstead, which she describes as “a great combination of transport links to central London but also all the quaint local shops, a local and cosy feel”.

Aurevoir West Hampstead!

Aurevoir West Hampstead!

What’s in a name

Teresa was always passionate about food and cooking but was not a professional chef. In 2009, she was made redundant and thought it was time to follow her dreams. She started off offering Vietnamese cooking lessons with a view to opening her own restaurant. On her way to work she had walked past Glo on West End Lane. The pan-Asian restaurant closed after about a year, but the prominent site – directly opposite the Iverson Road junction was clearly good. The site became vacant, Teresa had some culinary experience under her belt and she had always wanted to open her own business. Hello Ladudu.

About that name. It has featured in some unflattering lists of London restaurant names, so where did it come from? In Vietnamese, la means leaf and dudu means papaya. Put the two together and you get papaya leaf! It is also has a family resonance as Teresa’s grandfather was a herbalist and used to drink papaya leaf tea for its health benefits.

Ladudu passed the crucial three-year stage but, like all businesses, had to face some bumps in the road. Last year there were two: Brexit caused a jump in the cost of imported ingredients, but not a jump in the prices she they could charge and a broken water main (in West Hampstead, who’d have thought) damaged the basement kitchen. Although the damage was covered by insurance it still meant the restaurant was out of action over the busy Christmas period.

Ladudu’s logo and branding may make it look like a chain, which it isn’t. Teresa had hoped to open another branch, but says that that would have made the business “too commercial”, so instead she took the decision to close the restaurant and focus on other opportunities in order to preserve a lifestyle that still gave her some flexibility.

Teresa and her saucy new business.

Teresa and her saucy new business.

Sauce of enjoyment

Teresa says she has learned a huge amount in her five years running Ladudu, and saw other opportunities opening up. First, she has started marketing the sauces she was making from scratch for the restaurant and she wants to go back to teaching others how to cook Vietnamese food, but probably this time over the internet. Ladudu sauces will be available at Wing Yip and other Asian grocers around London, plus at the grocers on West End Lane and hopefully Cook too. Don’t be surprised if you see a familiar face on Dragon’s Den in the not too distant future.

With her background in IT she has also set up systems at the restaurant both for cooking but also for the all important stock and cost control. So she and her husband have set up a company, Insolution software, to sell that too! Plus she is writing a cook book.

However, there is one last surprise for West Hampstead. Ladudu closes at the end of the month, but on the last day, Monday 27th, for lunch and dinner (and in between) it will be pay-what-you-want. Head along, enjoy the food one last time – top tip: it’s the best ice cream in West Hampstead – and buy a jar of sauce (or two) so you can take some Ladudu home with you.

What of the restaurant? Teresa had interest in the site from Pret and bakery chain Paul. A burger chain was also interested. However, in the end Teresa preferred Rosa’s Thai Café. If you’re not familiar with this small chain, then expect Thai food with a modern twist. It started in Spitalfields and has opened several branches since, the latest one in Brixton. West Hampstead will be the first branch outside Zone 1.

Adieu to Ladudu, all the best to Teresa and thank you for introducing us to some Vietnamese favourites. Who’s going to make WHL’s banh-mi now?

Local restaurant name comes back to bite it

When it opened back in April 2011, we all thought that it was a brave choice of name.

There were a few sniggers.

The intellectuals pointed out that it meant “papaya leaf” but that didn’t stop the comments.

Mercifully, the place has proved incredibly popular, serving tasty food at very reasonable prices.

Still, it’s not the food that’s led US tabloidy list site Buzzfeed to put West Hampstead’s modern Vietnamese restaurant on its catchily titled list of 32 restaurants that might want to reconsider their names.

Not for a second do I think all of these are “unfortunate accidents”, I suspect some are very deliberate publicity stunts or simply restaurant owners with a sense of humour. As for Tequila Mockingbird – well that’s just inspired. Tumblr site Pu Pu Hot has many many more examples of such naming gaffes/achievements.

Frankly, Ladudu (or Ládudu as it should be written), comes off pretty mildly compared to some of the other names on this list with “It’s OK, you can allow your 4-year-old self to laugh”.

Twenty two do Ladudu

On Thursday, we took over a good chunk of West End Lane’s popular Vietnamese restaurant Ladudu in the latest installment of whampreview.

Unlike previous reviews, we had a set menu and arrived all at once – setting both the kitchen and front of house a sizeable challenge. Complimentary prawn crackers and green and jasmine tea arrived promptly and the conversation across our three tables started to flow as we waited for our appetiser platters. Several people had been to Vietnam and expectations were high.

The first dish to arrive was a green papaya salad (one of my personal favourites and also popular with Eugene) surrounded by summer rolls filled with prawn, vermicelli and mint. These had very clean flavours – although my table felt the mint was a little overpowering giving what Sam described as a “toothpaste” finish. Other diners thought the mint made these rolls fresh, light and fragrant. Stefanie thought this was typical of what she’d eaten on her travels. In contrast to these sharper flavours, a plate of fried calamari, fried prawns, and vietnamese spring rolls had a lovely chilli warmth to them – the squid in particular was “bang on”, according to Thom. Paula thought they were light and tasty, although James thought the spring rolls were nice but not distinctive.

The dipping sauce that Daniel and Sheena said really helped bring these bite-size morsels to life was a bit slow to my table. Alicia wondered whether a sweet peanut dipping sauce might be a good addition although she loved the summer rolls. Overall, most of us agreed with Tom, who loved the style, presentation, tastes and textures of the platters.

Having demolished the starters, and moved from tea onto wine and beer, we were then served a hot and sour prawn soup. This was laden with prawns, white fish, squid and er.. pineapple, which caught a few people by surprise – “I saw it, and left it,” said Claire. It was generally very popular though; “a great mixture of tastes that somehow came together perfectly,” said June. It also briged the gap nicely as we waited for our main courses. Nicky thought it would make a “nourishing winter cold remedy”. Simon liked it but thought it meant the whole meal was quite a lot of food. Tom declared it to be “wonderful”. “The inclusion of big pieces of squid and things really made it a dish I would eat as a main. Perfect balance of flavours too.” Daniel called it the “Goldilocks of soups”.

For a main course, each table got a bowl of beef curry and a bowl of chicken curry (our token vegetarian got her own vegetable curry). Simon liked the curries but preferred the starters, Bill thought they needed a little more kick, and SJ said they were nice but she wasn’t blown away. Alicia, however, thought they were tasty. Tom D summed up Nicky’s table’s view of the curries, saying they felt a bit generic south-east Asian. Eugene had a similar perspective, comparing them with a Wagamama’s curry. It’s probably fair to say that although everyone liked these dishes, no-one was bowled over.

Luckily all the other elements of the main course were much more successful. We also had rice, rice noodles, a chicken stir fry dish, fried noodles, and morning glory (which Wikipedia tells me is designated a Federal Noxious Weed in the US, but was one of the most popular dishes for whampers – Bill declared it the highlight of the main course). On my table at least, there was quite some time between all these elements appearing and probably more rice and fewer vegetables than we needed.

The chicken stir fry (or veg stir fry) was a big hit. Paula commented that the smoky mushrooms brought the dish alive, and Mark agreed it was well done. The fried noodles were also very popular on my table but took a while to arrive on Tom’s table, although once they did they were well received.

The wine continued to appear – house white for my table, a Marlborough Pinot Noir on Tom’s table that he raved about, and white and red for Nicky’s gang. It seemed that first-time whampreviewers were quickly getting the hang of the whole thing (eat, drink and be merry).

Most of us had room for dessert – especially when it came in the form of Ladudu’s truly outstanding ice cream, which is probably the best in West Hampstead. Coconut and pandan, lychee, vietnamese coffee, and  black sesame ice cream all elicited gasps of amazement. James said his was “the best lychee ice cream I’ve ever eaten” (yes, it was the only one – but I think the sentiment is valid). Nicky reckoned the black sesame ice cream was worth going back for all by itself – and the waiter enigmatically promised that they are working on a new improved sesame flavour “which will be as black as my Asian hair”. Alicia was the sole dissenting voice, saying her ice cream could have been sweeter.

The other dessert option was a “celebratory glutinous rice cake with coconut reduction” – this was a bit heavy for Dominic and Isabelle, who failed to finish theirs. On my table, only Sam was in favour while Claire said it wasn’t to her taste. Tom’s table were more enthusiastic, with Paula saying it was “savoury, interesting and chewy”.

Each table had a designated waiter or waitress, and service was friendly and well-informed if a bit slow at times as the kitchen tried to get everything out together. Large groups and set menus are also a relatively new venture for Ladudu, so it’s likely that they’ll iron out some of the kinks – and of course going in a small group or as a couple would be a very different experience.

Overall, the evening went very well. Some dishes disappointed those who’d been expecting more exciting food, and those who had eaten at Ladudu before felt the menu hadn’t necessarily showcased the best of the restaurant’s food. However, other elements of the meal were really successful, and there was a strong sense that people wanted to come back.

The cost: we paid £25 a head for the menu (£20 for the vegetarian option), with drinks and service on top. Tom’s alcoholics ended up with a £38/head bill, Nicky’s table was £36, and mine was £35.

The scores:
Nicky’s table 7.6
Tom’s table 7.2
Jonathan’s table 6.6
Average: 7.1

152 West End Lane
T: 020 7372 3217

La du du on Urbanspoon

Will Ladudu do do it?

Vietnamese café/restaurant Ladudu opened today on West End Lane. I popped in at lunchtime to see what was on offer and was given a very friendly greeting. As some readers might know, it has a problem with gas for cooking – namely there wasn’t any being piped in. Previous occupant Glo clearly wasn’t that fussed about using hobs.

Anyway, it’s going to be mid-late May before chef Teresa is cooking on gas according to her front-of-house partner Tristan. Until then, Ladudu is serving from its appetisers menu – 10 “tasty nibbles” including spring rolls, salads and betel beef rolls. I tried a couple of things, both were good although I think it’s probably fair to give a place a few days to settle in before really judging the food! Mains, once they come online after the gas is installed, are all under £8. Starters all under £5.50.

The decor is attractive with thick wooden tables and some comfy chairs in a lounge area. There are some larger sharing tables too, but overall it has a clean modern yet warm feel.

For the moment, Ladudu is open 7am to 6pm weekdays and 10am to 6pm weekends. It will close at 11pm once it’s fully operational. I understand from Tristan that they fancy their chances against Starbucks and Costa for the commuter coffee business. That may be a tall (skinny) order, given how wedded people can get to their coffee, but why not give it a try and support a local business run by people who actually live here.

No doubt we’ll be hearing more about it over the coming weeks, but for now, Good Luck.