Sometimes a favourite place can be more than just the sum of its parts, especially when you’re suffering from the effects of one too many shandies the night before.
Take Bobby’s, the run-of-the-mill sandwich shop I used to live near, that provided crusty tuna rolls and ice cold Coke to stave off the most fearsome of hangovers; or Drew’s Bakery, where I’d stop for a Saturday morning pain au chocolate, or even some of their fabulous lardy cake, to make weekend working more bearable. And who can forget the, life-giving boxes of greasy TEFC fried chicken the Ewing and I would scoff in bed after a night on the tiles.
Now there’s a new, and thankfully a little more sophisticated, saviour in town; Aobaba on the Walworth Road that also has the bonus of conveniently situated within staggering distance of Stealth’s house. Because while we’re told you’re supposed to get wiser as you grow old, in reality it seems the hangovers are just getting worse…
While the bright but rather sterile Aobaba might not be quite like hanging around back street Hai Noi (probably a good thing) I can attest that after an epic Bank Holiday weekend when I thought I would never feel quite the same again, salvation came in the form of a bowl of their Spicy Hue Noodle soup.
It’s described on the menu as beef shin, pork ball and pork meat in a spicy lemongrass broth with rice noodles; and while I’m not quite sure it lives up to the sum of its parts, a large bowl - complete with a forest of Vietnamese greenery, bean sprouts and bird’s eye chillies to really blast the cobwebs away - costs just seven quid.
It’s everything you could want from your lunch; soothing soup; a flotilla of fresh herbs; meaty protein; chilli heat; and lots of carby noodles, growing fat in the broth at the bottom. Not a perfect example in its field, but it’s hard to put a price on stopping that queasy stomach and pounding head that’s achieved with a few slurps from a bowl of this nectar.
For simpler tastes the chicken Pho, with rice vermicelli noodles, shredded meat and herbs, is the Ewing’s go to reviver. Simple but effective, although even a bowl of this combined with a sweaty schlep around the E&C subway couldn’t stop the Ewing falling into a post-lunch slumber on the train home.
While they are best known for their bubble teas, I think I might prefer the fresh fruit smoothies. I’d recommend the pineapple as being particularly good for digestive distress, although I haven’t yet summoned the courage to try to durian flavour.
The novelty of the classic boba tea still hasn’t worn thin though, and I’d rate the efforts at Aobaba as pretty decent. Although the flavoured ‘bubble’ selection available on any one visit can be a bit hit and miss there's enough choice to mean I can always try something different every time.
The last one I tried, the milk tea with red bean and coconut served black tapioca pearls, comes recommended, making a nice change from my favourite order of milk tea with black pearls. While the green apple with pineapple jelly cubes or mango boba is great refresher in the hot weather.
Another menu staple which has proved elusive - annoyingly my visits often precede the fresh bread delivery, or I turn up after it's all gone - are the banh mi, or traditional Vietnamese baguettes.
The baguettes are the authentic rice flour-based variety, which means the bread has a lighter, crispier crust than the standard French baguettes that they have evolved from after its introduction to South east Asia during colonialism.
To me banh mi is fusion food at its best; here they have a selection of fillings - from the classic Saigon with roast pork, ham and pate, to spicy lemongrass chicken. The buns are then finished with fresh red chilli, coriander and a handful of crisp pickled veg. At, on average, three or four quid each they put M&S pallid prepacked offerings to shame.
Lest you get the impression I’m always already inebriated when visiting, Aobaba is also a good place to have a drink too. They serve a trio of SE Asian beers, Hai Noi, Hue and Saigon, at £2.50 a pop, the cheapness atoning somewhat for the not-quite-cold-enough temperatures. You can also buy crates to go from the adjoining shop.
The beers also make perfect accompaniments to their range of snacks and starters. The minced grilled beef and pork, wrapped in betel leaves, attractively nicknamed ‘dead men’s toes' by the Ewing, being particularly nice if rather unphotogenic. They also have a selection of, rather average, steamed dumplings providing ballast for a pound.
After eating it's well worth going for a browse in the attached Longdan supermarket. As well as fresh rice flour baguettes and green pandan cakes there’s also a good soft drink selection; Thai and Vietnamese varieties of Red Bull (this stuff will really give you wings), lurid basil jelly shakes, roasted coconut juice, soya milks and fruit sodas for all your re hydration needs
They also stock a wide range of Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean and Japanese store cupboard essentials a large selection of both fresh and frozen meat, fish, fruit and vegetables. It’s also a good spot to seek out cooking utensils, pots and pans and tableware. There's even a nice selection of bamboo hats, perfect for the inclement weather of the Walworth Road