If you’re of a certain age, you’ll recall a youthful Take That insisting that ‘everything changes but you’. You know what? The lyric is a lie. In the past decade or so, my dining companions and I have all changed dramatically – and so, too, has the area in which we dine this evening. Once the exclusive preserve of ne’r-do-wells and ladies of the night, Kings Cross is now the stomping ground of Guardianistas and culture vultures; and, accordingly, is home to the sort of rather lovely eateries those diners demand.
Hungry gourmets are not restricted to the upmarket-restaurant-littered environs of Granary and Pancras Squares. A brisk walk up York Way towards Holloway and off the beaten track (for now, for regeneration continues apace), sits CôBa – a neighbourhood Vietnamese you’d be nothing short of chuffed to have in your locality.
But, even coming from further afield, it’s worth the journey. Much like the area itself, the restaurant’s founders have undergone an evolution of their own: starting out as the at-home ‘Table For 10’ supperclub which catered for just that number, they’re now happily ensconced in a much larger, scruffy-smart, altogether pleasant bricks-and-mortar site.
Creative cocktails were a Table For 10 ‘thing’ and they remain so at CôBa. Our teenaged selves would have spilled our green Skittles-infused vodka in excitement upon viewing the menu; their 30 year-old counterparts merely ooh and ahh, then sip approvingly. For four very different girls, four very different drinks; including my own – and, it transpires, my favourite – blood-orange-and-Campari-sorbet-topped Roman Holiday.
All that catching up doesn’t half build an appetite, and we fair fall upon a selection of starters. Sharing is caring, and we care, so we do. Aussie Damon Bui’s menu is inspired by his Vietnamese mum’s classic comfort cuisine – and, if she were to feed me the deep-fried butter chicken, lamb chops, spiced beef skewers, and prawn and pork pancakes we somehow divvy up, I’d want her to adopt me.
CôBa’s prawn toast requires a paragraph of its own. M&S would say ‘this is not just any prawn toast’, and I’d have to agree. Prawn toast 2.0 features an inches-thick topping more closely resembling a flavoursome fishcake than that insipid prawn paste, and comes with CôBa’s superlative Sriracha mayo – the stuff which, Damon teases me, could soon be available to buy.
Mains are typically fresh and fragrant, and fall into barbecue (various proteins served atop cold rice noodle salads) and broths. From the latter, a cauldron-like bowl of the special chilli chicken ramen delivers all the fire and flavour you’d hope, plus a healthy helping of noodles, plus the abundant herbs and beansprouts that so often signify Vietnamese cuisine. Its duck-based cousin is slurped with similar relish.
Noodle salads hang around little longer – my own topped with a healthy number of charred betel leaf rolls filled with tender, smoky beef, a mate’s with succulent’n’spicy chicken. Papaya salad is different to the Thai incarnation, but no less complex, beguiling, or welcome on the table.
We are full – of good food, of good cheer, of good friendship, but it’s not enough to stop us plunging four forks into one of the cracking cakes CôBa procures from baker extraordinaire Tarunima Sinha of My Little Cake Tin. This one’s a mango and passionfruit pyramid; fitting, perhaps, because I’d quite happily place it amongst the wonders of the world.
Old faces, new places, and a top-drawer dinner from a crew which deserves every success. Everything changes, but sometimes change is for the good.
Make it happen
Where: CôBa, 244 York Way, London N7 9AG
Find out more: To visit the website, click here
Images: Helen Abraham & Kurt Rebry