Urban Orient

I am so very excited. Why? Crystal Palace finally has a superb Vietnamese cafe/restaurant, just a stone’s throw from my house. Hurrah! And the whole neighbourhood seems thrilled to be able to say ‘welcome’ to Urban Orient, which has been packed to the rafters ever since it opened its doors. It houses a once-unloved site that used to be a drab, smelly kebab joint, and has filled the place with happy vibes and delicious food.

I have travelled to Vietnam and so of course am biaised when I say that I believe Vietnamese food to be the best in all of South East Asia. I am always hooked by the crisp and zingy flavours, the subtle mixtures of sourness and zestiness in the dipping sauces, the abundance of fragrant fresh herbs, pungent ‘umami’ of the fish sauce and soothing flavours of anise and caramel. It’s less sweet and heavy than Thai food, and to my palate much more exciting.

The cafe offers a bewitching atmosphere that is reminiscent of some of the arty cafes I went to when I was in Hanoi’s old town several years ago. (Pretentious? Moi?) The owners have tastefully decorated the space with a huge carved wooden mural filling up one entire wall, and eclectic touches such as old typewriters, tea chests and standard lamps. Vietnamese music burbles away gently in the background, and the menu is simple and unpretentious. Oddly, the owners choose not display the menu in the window, so you have to go inside and ask what’s good to eat that day – which might deter some customers – but on a Saturday night the place is full.

You can buy special ‘banh mi’ Vietnamese baguette sandwiches until 5pm, and the evening menu comprises staples such as noodle soups, chopped noodle salads and Chinese dim sum. It’s simple, good and flavoursome. The quality of the food isn’t as bombastic as that served in the Vietnamese restaurants on the Kingsland Road in East London, but Urban Orient have definite skill in the kitchen and I’m sure that once they have been open longer they will have refined their dishes a little. The food is a little light on the fresh herbs that are commonplace in Vietnamese dishes, and condiments such as fish sauce and chopped chillies could be offered on all the tables so you don’t keep having to ask for top-ups. But these are small details, and essentially the food is really good.

This is what we ate:

Steamed Dim sum – packed with pork and prawns, really delicious:

‘Bun’ noodles with lemongrass beef, salad, fresh herbs and fish sauce dressing – could have done with a few more fresh herbs, more fish sauce and less raw onion:

The eclectic decor – what a lovely space for chilling out!

The restaurant currently doesn’t have an alcohol license, and neither does it allow BYO, which they reassured me they’ll be changing soon. (Not least because London is a city of drunkards!) But you can grab a lovely Vietnamese-style coffee, complete with its unique cup filtering system and splash of caramelly condensed milk. I find the name ‘Urban Orient’ a rather strange choice for this laid back cafe because it sounds a little more suited to a generic fast food noodle chain. If I had my way, I would call it something more befitting its bohemian atmosphere, such as ‘Old Hanoi’ or something. No matter – I will be returning to try the fresh summer rolls, the squid and lemongrass salad, the banh mi baguette sandwiches, the pho noodle soup and the Vietnamese curries…

Urban Orient
74 Westow Street
Crytal Palace
London SE19 3AF

Want to try a really special Vietnamese pork stew? Make this delicious Pork Stew in Clay Pot recipe.

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17 comments

  1. (Hmph. Tried to comment via Google reader earlier but no dice.)My bestest buddy Laura lives right by there, and she is so very excited. I sent her a link to here and within minutes she was drooling. We are currently Plotting a visit.

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  2. I love the food here, the Pho stock is exemplary but I have a few concerns. Firstly, the ordering process is so long winded, why not just give the order to the floor staff without having the floor staff bring over the little check pad, then tick what you want, then take over the pad to the member of staff who gave it to you, then pay. Then ask for another pad when you realise you haven't ordered drinks, then order again, then pay again, especially as there are usually 3 members on duty hovering around ready to ask you if you need anything explaining….PHEW!Secondly, I find the pricing somewhat over egged. £8.50 for Pho is a lot of money considering I had 3 measley slices of brisket last time I ordered one and considering, brisket, beansprouts, beef bones and noodles are not exactly expensive ingredients and the portion size is probably half the size of anything on kingsland road, it gets me a little frustrated as it is really, really good Pho!Thirdly. (I promise this is the last point!) Consistency. The baguette I had first time was full of pickled carrots, pate, coriander, pork slices and chilli all packed into a beautifully crusty, chewy baguette, WOW! Had one last Saturday with a smear of pate, 2 bits of pork, literally 2 pieces of coriander all served in a stale, cakey baguette. MEH!I want this place to work and be successful, I hope the lovely owner reads this and doesn't think I'm moaning too much, the place could be genius! I'm in the business and hope a few words of wisdom might make a little difference.

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  3. Hi Anonymous, Yes, much like you, I had a decidedly less good second visit, where I felt that ingredients-wise, the kitchen was trying to cut corners. Such a shame – this could be a truly great cafe. They sure know how to cook, but they need to look again at their portion sizes (small) and pricing. Kingsland Road Vietnamese restaurants have set the benchmark very high, and many people living in Crystal Palace will look to the Kingsland Road experience as something to compare to…

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  4. Oooh I went back recently and had SUCH a good and very much improved experience! Delicious crisp veggie spring rolls that had fermented soy beans in for gutsy flavour, and a magical chicken pho broth that had clean fresh citrussy taste and a generous amount of herbs/chillies/beansprouts for garnish. Friendly prompt service (albeit during a quiet lunchtime) and great atmos. We will be going back again!

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  5. What can I say… the food specially the dim sum are the best in their kind. We had a party of 7 over the weekend and the staff was very helpful since the booking was taken. We had a wonderful time and now i can't wait to go back with my husband and children. For those who havent been URBAN ORIENT is a MUST to go and taste it for yourself. EXCELLENT FOOD- EXCELLENT QUALITY- EXCELLENT PRICES- EXCELLENT STAFF- EXCELLENT SERVICE. So for me and the girls it is definetely a THUMBS UP! Well done guys and once again thank you for making out night a experience to remember.

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  6. Urban Orient certainly has nice décor with its lovely, postcolonial interior, but sadly, that is as far as it goes. There are so many things wrong with the place that it is hard to know where to begin. So here goes…Firstly, I found the service confusing – menus are placed on the table so one is led to believe that Urban Orient offers table service, yet when it is time to order, you are expected to go up to the till to pay for your food (inconveniently) in cash beforehand as they do not trust you enough to pay for the bill after you have finished eating. This is simply uncivilised. And then there is the kerfuffle of the filling in the order form yourself at your table while a waitress lingers over you explaining to you how to fill it in, which begs the question, "you are the waitress, why don't you take my order and fill in the form yourself".The manager appears at first to be friendly, but as time goes on, turns out to be incredibly grating, interrupting our conversations and lingering far too long at tables. What you want from a manager is someone who directs their staff in order to provide an efficient service – liasing with the bar, the kitchen and the floor, so things run harmoniously. What we do not expect is to wait 45 minutes for one baguette and a sparkling water (both prepared at the bar), while my companions got their hot food twenty minutes earlier (prepared in the kitchen downstairs).And was the wait worth it? Not really. The food is mediocre at best. Portions are paltry whilst being expensive. The Vietnamese baguette bread was stale, and the pâté so obviously shop-bought – a depressing rendition of the kind of banh mi you'd find on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City. The Pho Bo was bland, the broth lacking in seasoning, body and depth. The Dim Sum we ordered is the kind of fair you would find in a frozen aisle of any Chinese supermarket – something that is not bad in itself, but we expected more for what we paid for the four sad looking prawn dumplings that arrived at our table. The nuoc cham dressing for the Bun Cha was lacking in punch. The side plate of beansprouts, chillies and herbs to accompany the dishes was stingy, and furthermore not fresh but greying round the edges. The Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk (when it finally turned up) tasted good, but was small. The cappuccino was a bit rubbish however – the milk was not properly frothed and was far too hot and burnt the espresso underneath. And to top it off, the table for three we were sitting at was so tiny that eating our meal with drinks became a balancing act. I ate my baguette off my lap.All in all, Urban Orient is about style over substance. I wanted this place to be really cool – but instead, the three of us left feeling ripped off and annoyed. Our suffering was made all the more excruciating because the service was so unbelievably slow, yet felt like we couldn't leave because we had already paid beforehand. You would be better off getting on the Overground train to Hoxton and trying one of many Vietnamese eateries on Kingsland Road, or even just down the road to Mangosteen in Gypsy Hill or An Viet in Croydon.Helen Duong

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  7. Dear Mrs Duong,Please I hope you get the chance to read this as you took the time and manner to write your review.I am writing on behalf of all the business out there which get bad reviews by people like you. I please correct me If I am wrong.First of all,Urban Orient is NOT a four michellin start restaurant or a restaurant even for the simplest fact. Urban Orient is a cafe/ Bistro. Therefore, as any person will easily understand all goods are paid before served NOT as you put it Uncivilised; It is the way it works ALL around the world. For your information if you ever get the chance to go into a bistro, bar, cafe, pub or/and other similar hospitality establishment you will then realised of it.Furthermore, there are no menus on the table, as Urban Orient only has check lists (drinks and food ONLY) on the table along with cutlery and napkins. I will explain you once again how it works VERY SIMPLE and EASY to understand. Check list are placed on the table, costumers will walk in and seat, then a waiter/es will come along with the menu and explain how Urban Orient works. " Good morning/afternoon/evening- here is our menu. Have you been here before?- if answer is NO. then waiter/es will ask them to once they are ready they can fill the forms placed on the table and as a courtesy you bring along to the cashier and paid or waiter/es will come and collect it and then bring the check" See- VERY simple. As anyone could understand this method/system. To cut the story short, Urban Orient staff will always do their bestest to solve any problem within service and food, because as you put it their staff will come to the table and ask if everything is ok with their food/drinks/service and if you did NOT know it is called in Hospitality which I have been part of it for nearly 10 years Customer SERVICE!! and finally as for the food if you and your party were NOT impressed please next time think at least twice before writing such a outrageous and meaningless personal review because any restaurant I can warranty you they will change/replace your dish without any extra cost. I hope you do not take this as just any review but as a note that business and people are here to listen to their costumers ANYTIME.Kind regards,Hospitality Services

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  8. Hi. I have just had to remove a couple of postings which worried me due to some very specific allegations. I'm all for people offering opinions, but I don't think that my blog is the place to make such accusations. Thanks.

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  9. So, is this place any good? What were the allegations? I'm thinking of booking this place for a party but I can only find inconsistent reviews all over the place, 90% average and 10% someone who seems to be the proprietor writing good reviews! Do I book or not? Michelle

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  10. All I can say is that I had a really nice meal there recently – chilli crab soup and a side order of some delicious spring rolls. It was great, but I was there during a quiet lunchtime where service was fairly quick. I think service might be slower in the evenings, but the atmosphere is great. I'm afraid can't speak for other people who have commented here…

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  11. I have to say my experience was incredibly similar to Ms Duong who wrote the review above (that attracted somewhat of a backlash).I had a vegetarian curry that was supposed to have tofu in it, but there was only one piece. The curry was incredibly sweet – I'm not an expert on Vietnamese food, but it was cloyingly sweet. I was disappointed with the ingredients – no fresh herbs, and quite a lot of potato and carrots (again, I'm not an expert, but this doesn't sound too authentic to me). My one friend had a soup, which again was incredibly sweet – and full of carrots, as was my other companion's salad which was massive chunks of under-ripe tomato…and, yes, carrots. The service was ok, but having to pay before you have even seen your food is odd, and given the place is quite small, just doesn't seem necessary when normal table service would be quite manageable. Overall the place looks nice, but the food is not well cooked, and I don't think the ingredients are that great in quality. Bit of a shame really.

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  12. I just wanted to add a few words of my own to this thread about Urban Orient, where I have been going for coffee or food since it opened last summer.All I would say is that my experiences of the place are very different from Helen Duong, otherwise I would not keep going back there.In my opinion, the food is good and the coffee superb. The staff are very polite and helpful (without being intrusive) and the owners are lovely people. I would recommend it to anyone, without hesitation. Graham.

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  13. Dear All PatronsI thank you for the comments made and any constructive criticisms are taken into account. I have been told by many customers about the strong comments made on this blog and that I should respond. I would like to point out that I work incredibly long hours and travel an incredible distance to Crystal Palace so I don't have the time to write reviews on my own cafe. We are a new business and we are working very hard to improve all the time and iron out any kinks. If there are any genuine problems with food or service please make it known to us. As for stale baguettes I apologize but our baguettes are baked every morning.The ordering is simple. 1) tick form 2) order and pay at cash desk. Some may not like change but I have had many positive comments about it as customers can take their time to choose rather than be pushed by the waiter to order faster and they don't have to wait 10 minutes for the bill at the end.My staff are there to serve and provide a good service they do. There is no service charge so we don't force you to tip unless you want to.Thank you to all customers who have graced our little establishment and taken the time to write whether good or bad. I will make sure that we are tighter on food quality.URBAN ORIENT

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  14. Well… Let me tell you that I use Urban Orient as my local. Although I live in Croydon, and that it takes me 35m drive to come here.I'm an actress, and a journalist. I've travelled the world, and ate in the best and worst restaurants. I've been fed on Vietnamese food since the age of 2.And Urban Orient is serving some of the best dishes I've come to eat. As simple as that.I have the strange feeling that the very nasty remarks posted on this notice board may have been placed by jealous competitors, as strangely enough, they all advise you to go in some nominated places… Coincidence. I think not.The staff is lovely, the food is delicious, the portions perfect. I strongly recommend the Prawn dumpling, and the fresh viet rolls.Great advantage too: you can eat all day long, you can also have a simple cup of tea, or fresh juice.I felt home the minute I step in the place. So, tell you what. Just make up your own mind, people. Just go there, and try it.And no, I'm not on the payroll…..

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  15. We visited Urban Orient today and thought it was lovely. The food was fresh and with a home made quality, and the service was faultless. All the staff were extremely friendly and welcoming. The place has a great peaceful atmosphere too. The prices were perfectly reasonable for the level of service and quality food. I liked placing my order and paying at the till…like someone said above this means a waiter isn't rushing you to take your order, and you're not waiting a life time for the bill! I think some people above are missing the point…this isn't a restaurant, more a cafe, you can just go in to read one of the many magazines they have dotted around the place and a coffee and sit there all day if you want. Also, in response to some other comments above which were made a little while a go now, there is now a menu in the window and BYO alcohol policy. 10 out of 10 I thought for this place, hope it stays in the area and does well

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  16. It concerns me that according to the Food Standards Agency website they only scored 1 out of 5 (major improvement necessary) for food hygiene. http://ratings.food.gov.uk/search/en-GB?q=urban+orient+&sm=1&pi=0

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  17. I Love Urban Orient and have visited many times, no one has commented on my favourite- the fish curry!This is the first time I have ever commented on a blog but I think the number of slightly bad comments do not represent the consistently high standard of food, generous portions of non greasy food I have experienced in a friendly restaurant. I'm not sure why a little too much carrot can instill so much annoyance!I have visited a number of Vietnamese restaurants including a number on the Kingsland road and in Hong Kong and I think Urban Orient provides food the same standard if not higher on it's specials and dim sum.I am a genuine customer and wish the very best for Urban Orient and it's great food and friendly staff. I have, and will, continue to recommend to friends.Rob

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