Brave Binh, and the years of an underdog
Special New Year celebrations for restaurant boss who fled war-torn Vietnam and eventually made it to Camden
14 February, 2018 — By John Gulliver
Binh Do (centre) hosting a New Year Banquet with guests this week
BORN to the sound of gunfire in war-torn Vietnam, Binh Do has a special reason to celebrate February 16, the Vietnamese New Year.
It is the Vietnamese Year of the Dog and Binh, who owns the Thanh Binh restaurant in Chalk Farm Road, Chalk Farm, is one of Camden’s bravest underdogs.
She saw her town of Hai Phong blown to bits by US bombers in the Vietnam war and, as a 10-year-old orphan, cycled across the countryside buying vegetables to sell so that she and her family could live.
In 1979, she left for Hong Kong, then Britain, spending six months in a refugee camp near Portsmouth. Arriving in Camden in the early 1980s, she learned English and held two jobs at once – in Fine Fare supermarket, which was then in Camden Town, and the Plaza cinema, then in Camden High Street.
Binh also got on her bike to sell Vietnamese food to stallholders in Camden Lock, finally opening her restaurant nearly 30 years ago. Customers have included Mick Jagger, former Labour leader Michael Foot and royal biographer William Shawcross.
Binh with customer Mick Jagger at her Chalk Farm Road restaurant
This week the Vietnamese dynamo hosted a New Year Banquet. Guests included a Vietnamese TV channel crew who were filming a documentary of Vietnam’s “great ambassador”.
Binh, who lives in Edgware, works up to 10 hours a day in her restaurant, swims daily at Kentish Town swimming pool and can sometimes be seen practising her hula-hoop in Chalk Farm Road outside her restaurant to keep healthy. She also raises money for Agent Orange victims in Vietnam, a pesticide dropped on the Vietnamese during the war by the US. It poisoned thousands of people and caused deformed births. Today, thousands struggle to live, helped by their government and money raised by such benefactors like Binh. She goes back to Vietnam regularly to help the victims.
While developing her restaurant and doing her charity work, Binh raised a family – her son is completing a specialist course in surgery, and her daughter, who graduated in business administration recently, helps her to run the restaurant.
“I suppose I am a workaholic,” Binh admitted between serving banquet guests. “But I know life is very short, so I don’t want to waste a second.”