Fifty Special Things – Thanh Binh Restaurant Cambridge

When: 03-11-2016 and 10/01/2016

Where: Thanh Binh Vietnamese Restaurant, 17 Magdalene Street, Cambridge CB3 0AF, United Kingdom
Tel: 01223 362 456
Email: info@thanhbinh.co.uk/thanhbinhcambridge@gmail.com http://www.thanhbinh.co.uk/

Price: Free first time (50th birthday present), £20 second time

Review: Excellent Staff. A tiny place in which to treat yourself.

Tip: If you want to drink take your own wine – small corking charge applies.

Next in the task to have 50 great things happen in my 50th year.
See the previous account in this series:
https://magic-phil.co.uk/2017/02/12/fifty-special-things-brampton-wood/.

A suggestion from a counsellor and a great suggestion. Why does the celebration end with the birthday – why can’t it carry on all year?

One reason is making enough time available to do the things in life that you always wished to do.

The next is that, having achieved this hoary old age, remembering all the dreams that you once had becomes a lot less easy.

However I have taken this up like a new religion and so I am trying to make fifty great things happen before I am fifty one.

I think of this restaurant as being on Bridge Street. On the first visit it was a treat from my sister and had that air of specialness that comes from being the focus of attention. My sister drove me to Cambridge and I walked with her to the restaurant with the normal Phil air of complete obliviousness to geography.

On the second visit I was with people from work and I told them to meet me on Bridge Street at the bridge. Only to find the restaurant is on Magdalene Street and the meeting place was a bit beyond the restaurant. (The restaurant is up near the traffic lights and St Giles Church more than down near the Cam).

Of course people have become used by now to my species of woolly-headedness and so after some leg pulling we set off back up the hill.

The restaurant has online booking and in contrast to some places I have tried in the past it is effective. I had confirmation within a few hours of registering interest in a table for four. It is also a relief that having entrusted the booking to mouse and keyboard when I attended they were expecting me.

I had attended with my sister and brother in law for an after-50th birthday meal at the beginning of November. (I was in Borneo for my actual Fiftieth birthday. Accounts of which will be in this blog in the not too distant future). We had a great time in November.

It was with this fond memory that I had recommended it to a couple of friends from work. I was confident in the place: in that it was enjoyable; I wouldn’t have to fight my way through hordes of eager eaters, and the staff were courteous and attentive.

Importantly I would be able to find stuff for me to eat. Given I have IBS (and have a diet slightly less restricted than a vegan) this can make for some entertainment.

Details of the IBS and how it developed will no doubt hit this blog at some point as well.

Of course anything in Cambridge is going to involve some parking negotiations.
When I had come in with my sister she had driven in and very kindly paid for the parking. On that occasion we used the Park Street car park:

https://www.cambridge.gov.uk/park-street-car-park

Not what you’d call cheap, not what you’d call fragrant but had the advantage of being close. I could not recommend much in the way of parking in Cambridge. Cambridge majors on the historic or even quaint but not much on the car city. Bicycle yes, car no.

On the second occasion (taking into account that I am a cheapskate) – after arrival I drove round for some on-street parking. This left a bit of a walk down Castle Hill.

On street parking is a bit of an endangered species in Cambridge. Resident’s parking bays are apparently procreating.

Very soon parking without fee will involve the kind of expedition that would bring a gleam to the eye of Sir Ranulph Fiennes.

It is pointless recommending anywhere because as soon as this blog item is out the parking will have disappeared.

Given the distance from the venue and my encroaching portliness I was late, again.

My two friends were waiting with that patient air of someone who’d dearly like to say “where the hell have you been”. They limited themselves to mentioning that they’d decided to wait at the appointed place.

The bridge is picturesque in that tiny “I wouldn’t have noticed if you hadn’t pointed it out” kind of way. But given the outside temperatures lingering on it was likely to have been diverting for all the wrong reasons.

Despite having attended in November, by the time I attended again in January I had forgotten where it was. A fact that caused some amusement to my companions.
Although not that exceptional for me I have to say.

If you’re as far as the bridge on Bridge Street you need to retrace your steps some way towards the traffic lights. A disconcertingly long way when you can’t remember where the place.

In fact if you are opposite Magdalene College you’re just about there.
Oh and if like me you forgot to look out for it on the way down the hill and walk past it then this is a cue for more ribbing behaviour.

It is tiny.

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I felt like I was sitting in the comfort of someone’s front room the whole time I was there.

The staff are friendly and welcoming. In that fashion which does not involve them fussing round you whilst you’re trying to have a conversation.

On each occasion it has been quiet like the low murmur of somewhere refined.

Maybe the more restricted areas of some gentleman’s club but without the wing backed chairs (and the prostitutes).

The first time we took wine to celebrate (they don’t serve wine but allow you to take your own). This is a top tip if you want to drink – they are quite happy for you to bring some.

There’s a small charge for this but cheaper than getting wine in a restaurant I thought.

The drinks available are appealing even if the lack of alcoholic ingredient may deter many.

Although Vietnamese and therefore chopsticks provided as standard fortunately cutlery is available. This is useful considering that I am a Luddite and have the finger dexterity of two large lumps of concrete.

Although chopsticks make a very effective projectile. (As I discovered; I caught one with my sleeve and sent it down to the lower ground floor level – with a resounding clatter which caught everyone’s attention).

The toilet is on the lower ground floor beside the kitchen down a winding staircase. This means having too much to drink is not too great an idea in any case (you might arrive on your backside).

dsc02790

They have both chrysanthemum tea and jasmine tea so I was a bit torn opting for jasmine through habit.

For those who can drink tea which has camellia sinensis in it they have green tea but I saw no evidence of the fermented variety.

The food is to die for and semi IBS friendly. Although I tend to find no matter how careful I am after I go out – being close to some facilities (and away from people) for 24 hours afterwards is a good thing.

The fish I had a couple of times (once on each visit) because I liked it so much. (In a former life I must have been a marine creature given my love of all things seafood).

dsc02792

Mostly you go out for the company. This is a place where you can have a conversation and not have to compete with the hubbub. Neither will you find it necessary to shrink yourself down to a skinny person – to avoid elbows, back or bum intersecting with someone else’s’ eating space.

The first occasion with family was a very uplifting experience – helped by being made a fuss of.

I can’t speak on behalf of my friends but personal view was that the second visit was also a success.

I imagine that at intervals it must become busy and I can’t speak for the experience then. Both occasions where I have attended there hasn’t been need to elbow back the crowds or to join some tiresome queue whilst you “wait to be seated”.

They have some interesting desserts too. Although after my experiences in Malaysia I would not recommend anything containing durian.

They have durian ice cream but after the face shrivelling experience of trying some on an open market in Kuala Lumpur I can’t say I was tempted this time.

The first visit I opted for the standard ice cream which given November wasn’t too shabby temperature-wise just about made sense.

January it turned out was a bit stiffer in its resolve to bring draughty. Everyone agreed dessert was not what we were looking to do.

If you’re coming in and do not fancy car park negotiation one of my companions pointed out that Shire Hall is now pay and display at £1 per hour (at weekends). Compared to some multi storeys this is a disgraceful bargain. But if you’re a cheapskate could be considered ruinous. Consider it a contribution to the good works of the local authority…

I recommend this restaurant for a visit. I’m hoping that my recommendation will not ruin the special atmosphere through increased demand.
Perhaps the thing is to get in quick before the rush starts.

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