Review: Vietnamese restaurant Bambu, Colchester
- Credit: Stephanie Mackentyre
Stephanie Mackentyre tries out Vietnamese joint Bambu that offers up a variety of dishes, at a lightning pace.
From its elevated position, Bambu overlooks the Hythe, a former industrial area to the south of Colchester on the banks of the River Colne.
The weather was still mild enough to sit outside and admire the planting, which softens the look of the wooden pergola and seating on the terrace.
The vines trail from above and I had an orange tree complete with tiny oranges right next to my chair.
The owner is certainly green-fingered, he’s transformed the unit he took over around five years ago.
Inside, there’s plenty more natural wood with bench seating throughout, a large bar and floor-to-ceiling glazing, which creates quite the holiday vibe.
We instantly felt relaxed, while their service is anything but. It’s lightning-fast yet extremely friendly.
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The huge variety of dishes on offer was a little overwhelming, so our waitress suggested we enjoyed our starters and then decided on mains once we’d eaten them. A great idea that I’d like to see other restaurants consider.
We decided to go for the tasty mix, which is a circular tray of starters to share.
There were oh-so crispy pork spring rolls and chicken satay skewers with a sauce so good those alone had us promising to return, chicken summer rolls, which were so light and fresh tasting and potstickers (a mini pasty in light crispy pastry).
There were also two dipping sauces to enjoy them with: sweet chilli and nuoc cham (Vietnamese fish sauce, with garlic and chilli).
There are a host of cocktails and spirits available from their well-stocked bar, but we decided to try their non-alcoholic Vietnamese lime juice with apple and mint, which was served in trendy jars with plenty of ice and was really refreshing.
Had it not been a review we could have been quite satisfied with those incredible starters, but we looked for a suitable couple of main courses; not an easy task as so many sounded delicious.
I was tempted by the bun vermicelli (rice noodles) served with salad and peanuts, with which you can choose to have with a variety of meats or vegetables (vegan).
Some things on the menu were more familiar, like the suon noung (grilled spareribs with honey) or crispy king prawns. If you get stuck, the staff are more than happy to recommend you something to try.
We chose the Vietnamese curry with potatoes and coconut milk. Again, you choose which meat (or you can have a vegetarian one with just vegetables).
For us, it was the bo kho (traditional beef stew); the sauce was incredibly creamy but still quite light with just a hint of chilli.
I also picked something I’d never tried before: ca kho to, a braised cat fish with pork belly caramelised in soya sauce and served in a clay pot.
Mine was more of a stew and the depth of pork flavouring had been taken on by the fish. Do beware of the bones in the fish though.
We picked steamed jasmine rice to accompany both dishes. We could have chosen stir-fried mixed vegetables, fried noodles with beansprouts, stir fried pak choi or simply egg-fried rice.
They have a selection of desserts, including sticky toffee pudding and chocolate brownie, but we were looking for something lighter, so it was mango and raspberry sorbet for me and strawberry ice cream for my dining partner.
Parking outside is a little limited due to it being a residential area, but don’t let that put you off.
Before we left, we stood at the bar chatting with the staff who made us feel like regulars despite it being our first visit.
They proudly showed us the rest of the interior, which as a family they had built with their own hands.
We couldn’t leave without trying one of their Saigon Baby shots, with lychee, mango, cranberry and Cointreau, which looked pretty and tasted like something I definitely want to try there again.
Table Talk with Stuart Mount, his partner Harriet Chiam, Maureen and Roy Pearce, and Stuart’s mum Jane Wilson.
Where do you live and what do you do? I’m a tree surgeon and I live in Stanway.
What did you choose from the menu? The tasty mix starter and then the pho (thick flat rice noodles), the Bambu Special ones with mixed beef and shredded chicken in a traditional bone broth infused with herbs and charred onions. Then we bought a birthday cake in with us for Harriet’s birthday.
Describe your dining experience in a phrase: It’s extremely authentic and fresh.
Is there anything they could do better? No, they are really attentive and the food is amazing. They are a really nice bunch of people and really helpful if you don’t know what you want to eat.
How would you rate their value for money? Extremely fair, the portion sizes are incredible for what you are a paying.
Worth visiting again? Yes, we’ve been there once before and remembered how nice it was so that’s why we chose to celebrate Harriet’s birthday there with family.
What was the best part of your visit? The staff – they are all so sweet and kind they make you want to be a better person!
Useful to know
My total bill came to £68.45 for a three-course dinner for two, with drinks. This is an independent review, featuring a restaurant selected and experienced by our food and wine editor. The restaurant was not told it was being reviewed.
Address: 95 Quayside Drive, Colchester C02 8GN
Opening Hours: Lunch Tuesday-Sunday 12pm-2.30pm; Dinner Sunday -Thursday 5pm-10pm, Friday -Saturday 5pm-11pm
Phone: 01206 866775