I walk along Regents Canal, with its industrious landscape beyond, into what looks like an old council estate. I go up the old lift for three floors, along the walkway and into a studio that is bigger and much homelier than my own home, a studio flat.
I am visiting the kitchen of food stylist and photographer Uyen Luu in Regent Studios on Andrews Road, London Fields.
Uyen famously founded the incredibly successful Supper Clubs out of her East London flat, which garnered rave reviews from food critics and fellow chefs including Jamie Oliver, who is said to be a big fan.
The event was a one-off in celebration of the release of Miss Saigon: The 25th Anniversary Performance, a musical set in Vietnam that is coming to UK cinemas for one night only on October 16, and so to begin Uyen tells us about Vietnam, the country in which she was born, and her life that followed in Hackney.
Uyen came to the UK at the age of five after escaping Vietnam’s communist regime. She takes a moment to stress that Vietnam’s victory was a good thing and recalls that people were starving, suffering and punished if they were caught trying to leave.
Evidently Uyen is one of few who successfully fled the country. After a few attempts her father managed to reach Britain after being picked up by a Hong Kong ship and then sending for his family.
This was in the early 80s when the then current Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, gave 5,000 Vietnamese people refugee status and housed them in Hackney. Now, Uyen tells us, there are around 25,000 Vietnamese people in London; no longer just in Hackney but she believes this is still where you will find the best Vietnamese ingredients.
We begin the evening making summer rolls – after some prosecco and nibbles that is – these are similar to spring rolls but not fried. They are held together inside a sticky see-through wrap, bánh tráng.
When asked why they are called summer rolls Uyen admits she is not too sure, but then explains to us the fascinating and unfamiliar food mantra of those in the north of Vietnam – it is all about hot and cold, however she is not referring to temperature.
Certain foods, like duck meat, seafood and eggs, are cooling, pork and ginger are warm foods and then noodles and rice are neutral.
All meals must be mostly balanced, but can lean one way or the other according to the season.
We then watch Uyen make a Vietnamese salad with unusual ingredients such as red onions pickled in vinegar, banana blossom, sugar and – the most important part she tells us, one that many restaurants overlook for cost effectiveness – fish sauce.
We wolf this down and she tries to give us more, but eventually settles with preparing Tupperware for us all to take home.
I left with two.
She then presents us with a beef noodle pho and as we slowly savour the tastes – some struggling with the chopsticks other slurping at the broth, all of us already well fed – she explains to us the process and all the flavours used but, of course, the broth takes far too long for us to have been able to prepare it with her.
The northern Vietnamese would never, she tells us, put something cold in their body when they wake up. The noodle soups we know as hearty evening meals are in fact intended for breakfast.
After this we all laugh about how full we are, but with no intention of stopping and missing out on Vietnamese desserts, something nobody in the class has had previously.
The penultimate course in this feast of an evening is a mango and tapioca pudding with coconut milk, infused in pandan.
It is incredible and like nothing I have had before. Sweet and creamy with a gentle crunch of mango pieces and tapioca.
Finally, for those of us with any space left in our stomachs, an incredible vanilla Vietnamese ice cream before rolling our stuffed selves home.
To try Vietnamese cooking you can turn to Uyen’s book, My Vietnamese Kitchen, or book your place at one of her Supper Clubs. Details: uyenluu.com.
Miss Saigon: The 25th Anniversary Performance will be in cinemas for one night only on Sunday, October 16 and available on DVD from October 24.