Little Hoi An


TUESDAY night, freezing cold, sleety rain, mid-December in the middle of Culinary No Mans Land. Little Hoi An is already completely full. Every two or so minutes, say, for the hour I’m in here eating, that door will swing open and another couple or another group or another person will be standing there waiting, looking – wondering, like me, what the hell is going on here?

Every table in this little shoe box is packed. People are looking for bowls of pho, slurpy noodles, tangy Vietnamese salads and there's enough of a buzz-orama for folk who haven’t booked to be willing to hand over their numbers and go back gently into that freezing night. To wait in a car, or a tent, with Captain Oates perhaps, until the call maybe comes.

I’m astonished. So I think are the Little Hoi An people. They dart here and they dart there. Darting towards the door every time it opens, darting up to my table with my wok fried green beans with oyster mushroom, fresh spring roll, a bowl of pho, darting over in between serving other tables, to check if everything is okay, sir. It is. Like they can hardly believe themselves that it is, given this crazy non-stop pressure.

But how could it not be? I was passing, noticed a restaurant commotion where no restaurant commotion should be, in that quiet stretch between Strathbungo’s horizontal cafeland and Vicky Road’s hiply happening pop-uppery. Put my head in the door just as a couple paid, was lucky white-heathered when the waitress nodded towards their tiny table and, wham bam, found my chilling chunkiness settling into probably the smallest restaurant two-seater I have ever occupied. Made even smaller because I’m sharing one whole side of it with some radiator pipes.

Actually? Tonight, it’s otherwise so cold I could hug them, in fact I do. While watching the whole show unfold around me. There’s a square window into a kitchen at the back, there’s a man with a wok, a commis-chef shredding vegetables for salads, a counter where bills are paid, tables are watched, serving strategies co-ordinated.

Do I want a drink, do I not want a drink? I settle on a half pint of freshly squeezed orange juice and glug it while crunching through fresh, flaky spring rolls, cut diagonally across the grain, tightly packed with micro vegetables. Good, good pastry. “You can wrap them in these lettuce leaves to stop your hands getting oily,” said the waitress as she brought them. No need. It’s cleanly fried.

There’s fruit in the Vietnamese salad according to the menu. I can't see that but I can smell the tang of fish sauce as it is put down, and also the roasty-toasty aroma of still-hot peanuts. I taste lime, chilli, garlic. It’s drenched with big, punchy flavours forked up in between mouthfuls of tonight’s special – wok fried green beans with oyster mushroom jasmine rice. I could have added chicken or beef taking it up to £10.50. But there’s no need, it’s light, fresh and comforting, if a bit bland.

The funny thing is I’m almost about to pack up and head out when I remember I’ve forgotten to order a pho. A French-occupation-derived phenomenon in Vietnam, a dish to drool, drivel and slurp over in the foodie pages in the West, but a soup really with noodles and accessories.

It’s traditional to spend some time analysing the bone broth, the marrow content, the balance of spice and vegetables but it’s more straightforward than that. A deep and richly-flavoured, chicken-stock-emboldened broth, very lightly seasoned, a fragrance to it, silky, slippery rice noodles resting at the bottom, and on the side a dish of fresh mint, coriander, sliced red-hot chilli and a mound of super-crispy bean sprouts.

Take the accessories, add to soup, hoover up the noodles, crunch on the bean sprouts, wash down with broth enlivened by fire-crackery explosions of heat. Simple stuff, good though, hence the buzz.

Little Hoi An

26 Allison St


0141 424 1114

Menu: Simple Vietnamese street food with the obligatory pho. Plus noodles and a dish of two of the day. 4/5

Service: It’s small and almost under siege yet they are able to keep an eye on everything and respond quickly and warmly. 4/5

Atmosphere: Small, very small, squeezed-in, shoulder-to-shoulder, shop front restaurant but that’s part of the fun. 5/5

Price: Main courses flop in under the tenner, starters can easily be had for less than £5. No complaints price-wise. 4/5

Food: Straightforward, freshly-cooked Vietnamese street-food, some will rave over the pho, others the spring rolls, I liked the Vietnamese salad. 8/10