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Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Thanh Binh, Cambridge

A midweek dinner at Thanh Binh Vietnamese restaurant, Cambridge

With two bored teenagers requiring summer entertainment and foreign holidays only for those brave and agile enough to make - and re-make - plans on the hoof, we opted to create the holiday vibe at home with weekend trips and family meals out.

So, we have a dining plan of restaurants to visit in Cambridge in the remaining weeks of the summer.

This week saw us at Thanh Binh, something of a hidden gem in the Cambridge dining scene, albeit one hiding in plain sight; located on a stretch of Bridge Street between the river and the road up to the castle, it is in a part of Cambridge that I tend to travel through more than consider as a destination in its own right.

Notwithstanding my two decades in the city, Thanh Binh has somehow never quite made it onto my radar as a place to visit. I can't really explain why other than it is the sort of place one rarely, if ever, reads about or hears mentioned.

This is all my loss of course; it's a neat and charming restaurant doing that most unfashionable of things - making consistently good, well-presented, unpretentious food.

And clearly there are people in the know; on a hot Tuesday evening in August in the middle of a pandemic, the place was full (all safely socially-distanced).

It helps, of course, that with #eatouttohelpout, the altruism of stimulating the local economy is a subsidised experience, but even at full price, it is not expensive.

Thanh Binh is a traditional, authentic, family-run Vietnamese restaurant with, apparently, one of the best chefs from Vietnam. I can't vouch for the latter claim, but this is pretty much all you need to know.

With starters and mains ordered, we all tried a bit of everything and found nothing that wasn't delicious - flavours, ingredients, seasoning, cooking and presentation were all faultless.

Those acquainted with Vietnamese food will find the menu familiar; newcomers can check out the restaurant website in advance or, like me, just ask the staff for recommendations; we ended up opting for soft shell crab, spring rolls, pancakes Phở Bò (beef soup) and a spicy duck curry.

Add in attentive waiting staff, a neat, if conservative, decor and there's really nothing not to like here. And in a touristy city like Cambridge, where few establishments need to rely on repeat business, that is no mean feat.

Another plus is the corkage policy; with no alcohol license, you just bring along one or more bottles of whatever you want to drink with your meal and pay a token amount for glasses - Cambridge Wine Merchants is just across the road if you plan to buy something en route.

Pro-tip: pre-chill your whites as they do not offer an ice bucket; and don't expect the standard-issue glasses to show off every nuance of your Grand Cru wines. We opted for a bottle of very pleasant and inexpensive fizz, the traditional-method Arestel Cava Brut from Lidl; fresh, uncomplicated and citrussy, it worked perfectly as an aperitif and a foil to the strongly-flavoured food.

A two-course meal for four with corkage and non-alcoholic drinks costs around £50 after the government discount.

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