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Monday, 9 May 2011

Vietnamese Please: Cooking Class at Fernandez & Leluu

Location: Leluu's home, Hackney
Address upon booking

I've got a lot of love for Leluu. I've been to her amazing supper club twice and each time she's been such a sweet, humble and gracious host. At the first supper club, her partner in crime, Simon was cooking. The food was divine. But what really knocked my socks off was my second visit when Leluu (aka Uyen) took to the kitchen to make us a seven course meal from her native Vietnam. One of the women at my table had taken Uyen's Vietnamese Cooking Course and raved about it. I signed up then and there.

The suggested donation is £75. It includes all the ingredients for 10 dishes, dinner, tea, takeaway treats and recipes. Typically, you show up at Uyen's lovely flat in Hackney around 1pm, spend the day cooking with a small group of 6-8, eat your creations and then (optional) head to the nearby pub in the park with your newfound cookery pals. 

Uyen kicked off the afternoon by describing all the dishes we would make that day. We sat around her kitchen table sipping a glass of Hat E - a traditional Vietnamese drink of sugary water with basil seeds. Although it tasted refreshing, it looked disgusting and Uyen joked about serving it to guests, telling them it was frog spawn. That's exactly what it looked like. Luckily, it goes down a little easier when you learn it's extremely good for you and helps to soothe coughs, sore throats and is beneficial for the bowels. 

From bowels, we went on to bowls of the tasty Vietnamese soup - beef pho. Because it takes quite awhile to cook, Uyen had already started a giant simmering pot of it before we arrived.  Her flat was filled with delicious smells of meat, chillies and ginger. 

The hands-on part started with a lesson in summer rolls. They're sort of like spring rolls, but cold and not fried.  We dug into tupperware containers filled with coriander, cooked pork belly, mint, king prawns, glass noodles and Chinese chives. We soaked thin circles of rice paper for a few seconds and then stuffed them with all the ingredients. The aim is to make them all the same size and not overstuff. Most of the class caught on quickly. Me, not so much. 

My summer rolls were quite special looking. Especially the big lump on the left. Everyone had a good giggle at my expense. We dipped them in a delicious sauce of garlic, chillies, fish sauce and sugar. They were amazeballs and the fresh flavors sang in our palates.

Next up, another dish with pork belly - banh cuon. We marinated the pork belly with five spice, star anise, cinnamon, soy sauce, red wine, lime and honey. After it had soaked for awhile, we piled the pork onto bowls filled with fresh banh cuon noodles with dried shallots. We poured over a flavorful sauce of chili, garlic, fish sauce, sugar and cider vinegar. The result was incredible. Uyen said that so much of Vietnamese cooking is about using the right ingredients. Fish sauce bought from a regular grocery store is far too salty and doesn't have the same quality of Vietnamese fish sauce. Helpfully, she took us on a field trip right around the corner from her flat.

I consider myself a fairly adventurous cook, but am still a bit frightened of the unknown. Having Uyen give us a personally guided tour around one of London's best-known Vietnamese grocery stores, Le-Mi, was extraordinarily helpful. I picked up some rice paper wraps, a huge bottle of fish sauce and some coconut milk that's high in coconut - unlike many you'd find in ordinary supermarkets. 

Back at Uyen's flat, we cracked open a couples of wine we'd all brought and got on with preparing the fish with mango and lemongrass, along with roasted sea bream with spring onions and ba la lot (lemongrass, peanut, chili, garlic beef wrapped in leaves with sweet peanut sauce). The atmosphere was wonderfully relaxed and we were kept busy with the different tasks Uyen assigned to us. 

No surprise, but the highlight came at the end of the afternoon when we all sat down to sample our Vietnamese feast. The dishes were sensational and we chatted excitedly about putting on impressive dinner parties for our friends. After stuffing ourselves silly, we were all given little doggy bags of extras. Then we hit the pub and clinked glasses to a wonderful day and new foodie friends.


  1. This looks like so much fun - and I love that you got to tour round the local Vietnamese supermarket too. I tend to stick to my local super and farmer's markets without venturing into more specialist shops so would love to do something like this.

  2. Great write up - it's brought back some great memories of our cooking afternoon!! Helen x

  3. Fernandez & Leluu now work independently!

    Simon Fernandez is now full time chef patron at ferdiesfoodlab and employs 8 people on a part-time basis. ferdiesfoodlab (a London supper club) is a social banquet where you can meet new people. It serves international cuisine in the east end of central London at the beautiful listed building Toynbee Hall. You can check it out at

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