Eating Out: Mekong Street Food brings tastes of Asia to... an industrial estate
Mekong Street Food
Springtown Industrial Estate
WHEN you’re alone and life is making you lonely, you can always go… to Springtown.
So Petula Clark very nearly sang in her 1964 assault on the hit parade.
Ah, Springtown! What a vision the very word conjures up. Clean, tidy streets lined with trees of cherry blossom pink. Children tumbling out of doors to frolic merrily in the park, released from the claws of Winter. Daffodils peeking cautiously through the thawing soil. The town itself wrapped in the embrace of rolling green hills where lambs gambol and brooks babble. And hark! A cuckoo! Bliss, thy name is Springtown.
But what if you bung the words Industrial Estate after it? Clouds gather, rainwater begins to pool in the potholes that scar the roads, the smell of petrol wafts through the grimy air, weeds grow through the broken tarmac. Children weep for want of a play park or an ice cream that doesn’t taste of diesel.
OK, so Springtown Industrial Estate is not quite as grim as that, but the open top tourist buses don’t include it on their routes, and in all likelihood it won’t be pictured on the front cover of the Belfast-Derry European Capital of Culture bid brochure.
You never know, though, it might just sneak into the odd good food guide. And that’s all because of the Mekong Street Food truck that’s recently parked up here, just off the Springtown Road, in a layby opposite some peeling railings that guard a derelict building.
Mekong Street Food is owned and run by chef Stephen Forbes. Having worked in a variety of restaurants, he decided to set up for himself and drew upon his travels in south-east Asia for inspiration.
Working alongside him is Christopher McShane. The location will either work massively for them or massively against them. The latter, because it’s out of town; the former, because there are plenty of people working in the area and others may be willing to make a special journey for the site’s counter-intuitive charm. If, that is, the food’s good enough.
Well, they should have no fears on that score, because the food’s terrific – great flavours, great ingredients, painstakingly but speedily prepared.
We had a few friends coming round for lunch, and it seemed a good idea to use the visit as an opportunity to try everything the Mekong has to offer. First up, then, the pho beef noodle broth (or noddle, as it says on the blackboard). Beautifully clear broth, full of a deeply beefy flavour, and absolutely loaded with strips of beef. The meat wasn’t as tender as it might have been, but lovely nevertheless.
There was no problem with the meat on the chicken wings. The skin was crispy and coated in just the right amount of hot sauce, and the meat was tasty and succulent. I wasn’t that fussed about the spiced tofu. It had good flavour, but, well, I just don’t think tofu is for me – not enough in terms of texture.
The chicken panang curry was excellent. Tender chicken strips in a rich, kicking curry, accompanied by nicely sticky rice.
I really liked the beef massaman curry. This beef was good, and the curry had a subtly fruity note to it. Best of all, though, was the lemongrass and chilli chicken. There was a warm smokiness to the meat, which blended beautifully with the heat of the chilli, all wrapped in a flatbread that started crisp and gave way to soft and chewy.
I’m going back soon. This time, though, I’ll eat it there. The fresh air will add to the experience. I had to take ours home, but it would’ve been better there and then. And it’ll be good once again to watch the boys in the van working with such care and precision.
The original idea was to get a site in the city centre, but the council kiboshed that. It’s the city centre’s loss. Springtown Industrial Estate may not (OK, will not) feature in National Geographic’s Coolest Places list any time soon, but the Mekong Street Food Truck provides a perfect reason to visit.
Pho beef noodle broth £5
Panang chicken curry and jasmine rice £6
Chicken wings in hot sauce £4
Lemongrass and chilli chicken in flat bread £5
Spiced tofu and hot sauce in flat bread £5
Beef massaman curry and jasmine rice £6