Review: Pan Pan

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Pan Pan Oxford opened at the end of May this year on the old site of Pink Giraffe, and offers a variety of dishes inspired by the street food of Southeast Asia. I won 50% off food through a competition they were running on Twitter, so Jamie and I decided to check them out before seeing a show at the Oxford Playhouse. At a first glance their menu seemed pretty vegan friendly, but I messaged them in advance and they kindly provided me with a really helpful list of all the options that are either vegan, or can be adapted if you ask, which I will share at the bottom of this post.

When we arrived we were greeted really warmly and given our choice of where to sit, so we went for a booth in the window in the sun – we had booked a table for 5pm so the restaurant was empty apart from us. I didn’t go inside Pink Giraffe as it was before, but it looks like they’ve done a really nice job of tidying up the place, we loved the wall art and the furniture, and it made for a good atmosphere even though the restaurant was empty. We were offered some tap water right after we were seated, and were brought some complimentary wasabi peas to nibble on while we made our menu choices, which I thought was a nice touch. I asked for the allergen menu just so I could be sure I made the right choices, which they were happy to provide.

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We ordered some crispy vegetable dumplings with sweet chilli sauce and Nyonya Tofu (minus fish sauce) from the large selection of street food dishes as starters. The freshly cooked crispy dumplings were seasoned really well and a million times better than the soggy things you can get from chain restaurants. The tofu pieces were amazing, cooked exactly how we were hoping, with a crisp chewy outside and a soft centre. The flavour was fantastic, delicious sweet chilli with just the right amount of onion, peanut and cucumber on top, which all combined together made for a really wonderful dish. Both plates were a very good size and we felt it was just the right amount of food for us to share as a starter. If these street food portions were anything to go by, this is one of the few restaurants where I’d be more than happy to make up my own meal by ordering a selection of small plates (I know this can happen a lot as a vegan and you end up with a bad deal, but I don’t think that’s the case here).

We had such high expectations of the main dishes after our starters, but ultimately we were left a bit disappointed. I am still wondering whether my palette just wasn’t used to the authentic flavours used in the dish, but unfortunately either way I definitely didn’t enjoy it as much as the starters. I’ve also had similar dishes in the past that I’ve liked more. The fresh carrot, cucumber, and beansprouts were fine as they tasted exactly how I’d expected them to taste, likewise with the sticky rice at the bottom of the bowl. Sadly though this was the first time I’ve ever eaten mushroom that I didn’t like, it was a bit rubbery and I wasn’t sure about the flavour at all (and yes, I’ve had shittake mushrooms before). The yellow stuff you see in the picture below – to be honest, I’m not really sure what it is. Its not listed on the menu description of the dish and the pickle was very strong so embarrassingly, I couldn’t tell you what vegetable it was. If you think you might know feel free to leave a comment because I’d be interested!

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Having said that, the tofu chunks on top were as much of a hit as our starter. The marinade was very spicy, more so than I was expecting, but luckily I can handle hot dishes pretty well and the chilli balanced out the sweetness of the sauce nicely. Please can someone tell me know to cook my tofu like this? There was a reasonable amount of tofu in the bowl, but the non-vegan version of the dish comes with a fried egg on top in addition for the same price, and I did feel after I’d emptied my bowl that it would’ve been nice to have had something else instead to make up for that. Also, sadly this dish helped me finally confirm, after trying it lots of times, that I don’t like nori. There’s not loads of it sprinkled on top, but enough that the flavour was a bit unwelcome for me. That’s definitely down to personal taste though!

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Despite my mixed review, I’d really love for other people to try this restaurant out and see what they think for themselves. There were lots of really great things about the food and the service was extremely attentive, and Jamie and I agreed that we might well have just made bad choices and if we’d ordered something else, e.g. a curry, we would’ve enjoyed it so much more. With 50% off, our meal came to less than £15 (felt a bit embarrassed to pay that bill actually), and even if we were paying full price we thought it would’ve been very reasonable. So if you do take a visit to Pan Pan, please do drop me a comment below and let me know what you think 🙂

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Vegan options at Pan Pan:

  • Edamame
  • Seeweed salad
  • Vegetable Pia Tod
  • Vegetable dumpling glass noodle soup
  • Padron Pepper

Can be made vegan on request:

  • Tofu Bibimbab (without fried egg)
  • Vegetable dumplings (change mayo to sweet chilli)
  • Tobboki (without fishcake)
  • Nyonya Tofu (without fish sauce)
  • Roti Canai (without fish sauce)
  • Jabchae (without beef)
  • Tofu Padthai (without fish sauce and egg)
  • Tofu green curry (without fish sauce or mayo on the salad)
  • Tofu Malasian curry (without mayo on the salad)
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