After what felt like a really long week and on a very cold and rainy Friday, going out to try some new food with my sister was something that I was really looking forward to.
We’d had rave reviews from friends and seen some delicious looking food on Instagram, so we decided to go to Nǎm Sông, a newly opened Vietnamese coffee house, bar and kitchen on New Briggate in Leeds City Centre.
Nǎm Sông was opened by a team of people who, after visiting Vietnam, had fallen in love with the people, food and coffee that is so characteristic of the country. They wanted to bring some of that back to the UK so that they and their community could experience some of what Vietnam has to offer more often. The restaurant, which was founded in Sheffield and has since opened in Leeds, is an all day and all night eatery and bar, serving a range of classic Vietnamese dishes.
When my sister and I booked the restaurant, we opted to sit in the cushioned area. We weren’t really sure what to expect, but as soon as we walked into Nǎm Sông, we realised that we would be sitting on the floor – not something you see every day in a restaurant in the UK. On arrival, we were shown to the upstairs seating area, and were instructed to take off our shoes, unroll the seating cushions and nestle ourselves under the small tables.
It was a cosy and beautifully decorated space, with bright orange walls, Vietnamese style posters and loads of lanterns hanging from the ceiling. The only slightly jarring aspect of the atmosphere in the restaurant was the music – we both thought that it would have been more in keeping with the rest of the vibe if there had been Vietnamese music on rather than the very western tunes that were played.
After getting comfy, my sister and I looked over the menu and opted for several smaller plates to share, rather than going for main meals, as we were spoilt for choice and wanted to try as many dishes as we could.
We ordered the sesame chicken bites, which were incredible. I am a big fan of fried chicken, but these were stand out. They were crispy on the outside, with a sweet and sticky sauce, no bones (big plus for me), and the chicken itself was flavoursome and moist. I honestly could have just eaten a plate of the bites with some sweet chilli sauce for my meal and I would have been a happy customer. However, on this occasion we had ordered a few more dishes.
As we both love summer rolls, it would have been rude for us not to have given the Nǎm Sông chicken summer rolls a whirl. We both liked that they had been well filled, not like some you can get which are a little limp. They were also really fresh and light – another big tick. However, for me, the ratio of herbs to filling was slightly out of kilter, as the mint overpowered the otherwise delicate flavours of the fillings. I also thought there were more rice noodles than necessary. However, despite these little qualms, I enjoyed the rolls and loved dipping them into the bowl of sweet chili sauce that they were served with.
Up next on our menu was pork and fennel spring rolls. These rolls surpassed my expectations. I’m not always a big fan of spring rolls as they can be oily with too much pastry, but these were delicious. I loved the unusual flavour of fennel and pork and appreciated how the pastry retained its crispness, despite being dipped into bowls of plum sauce and sweet chili sauce. I’d certainly recommend giving the rolls a try if you visit Nǎm Sông.
Alongside the chicken, summer rolls and spring rolls, we ordered the banh mi nuong muoi ot. Which is a Vietnamese style fried bread topped with chilli and spring onions. Despite not usually being a lover of fried bread as it brings back memories of bad full English breakfasts, I enjoyed the banh mi nuong muoi to – I think the toppings helped to lift it. I also liked being able to dip the bread into all the sauces as I am someone who could live off bread and dips!
Although we were happily full from the meal, we usually like to finish off our meals with something sweet. But Nǎm Sông didn’t have a dessert menu, so we were recommended to give the iced phin filter with condensed milk a try. It was very strong, and despite the heavy dose of condensed milk, not as sweet as I expected. However, it was something new to try for me, and brought back memories of travelling in Vietnam and powering her explorations with iced coffee for my sister.
Overall, we had a brilliant evening at Nǎm Sông. I am already planning my next trip and will be dreaming of those chicken bites for some time. I’d certainly recommend paying the restaurant a visit, and if you can, opt for the cushioned seating area to really get the true Vietnamese experience.
Photographs by Gemma Bridge and her sister.