I am actually planning on writing Vietnamese up on Londonist "soon" so it will be interesting to get some hot tips...
I do still enjoy Cay Tre, even though the cleanliness factor is low. I went to the sister restaurant, Viet Grill, on Kingsland Road and didn't really enjoy my food. I really liked Au Lac so that would be my top choice of the Kingsland spots I've hit thus far...http://kristainlondon.typepad.com/din...
Song Que is fun for a large group. People told me the service would be surly, but if you work with it, you should be fine. Make a reservation. And they won't throw you out after the 2 hours as long as you're spending money. http://kristainlondon.typepad.com/din...
I've heard great things about the Green Papaya. Also, have thrown out the idea of a CH meet-up and Kingsland Rd was a suggestion...e-mail me via my blog if you are interested...
The Viet Hoa on Kingsland Road is my favourite, but not necessarily for the food, which is comforting rather than gourmet. The atmosphere and the people there are really nice. It's a perfect spot if you're in a large group or on your own.
The Song Que, further up Kingsland Road, specialises in beef noodle soup. You can pick different cuts of beef to go in your soup, e.g. sirloin, skirt and tripe (if that's your thing!). The actual beef broth is very very good indeed. You get given a plate of chillies, leafy herbs and lemon to dress your soup as you like.
Cay Tre on Old Street, gets more business because of its location but isn't necessarily better than the Kingsland Road crowd. It is a bit different though - less of a cafe style. They also cook their signature fish dish at the table. There are many one pot dishes here. It can all feel a bit rushed here so I don't go that often.
Tay Do Caf on Kingsland Road's pretty good too. Enormous exotic crayfish on the wall draw your attention to all manner of fishy things on the menu. Good atmosphere here.
I would steer clear of the Viet Grill on Kingsland Road.
I think these posts show the variable nature of Vietnamese food in London
Cay Tre used to be excellent, but I thnk has gone downhill since the same people opened Viet Grill. I still use if for take aways.
I had an very enjoyable meal at Viet Grill in summer when it opened but have not been back since.
Viet Hoa is a regular standby. Harmless enough. The summer rolls are never fresh there, though
I have tried Au Lac and The Hanoi Cafe but never found a reason to return. Song Que cafe remains ingrained in my memory as one of the most actively disgusting meals I have tried with surly service to boot.
I have not been to Green Papaya for a long time. I recall one decent meal and one not so.
I have yet to try Xich Lo on St John St nor Little Hanoi on Curtain rd.
I tend to think of Vietnamese as somewhere I go when I don't want to spend a lot or have a hangover rather than when I am in search of anything of culinary excellence. That's not a comment on the cuisine more its execution in London
re: Simon Majumdar
Shame about your experience at Song Que . . . admittedly I haven't been there for about two years . . .
I hear good things about Little Hanoi.
I agree with your hangover/spending comment. For me they also act as good marshalling/stomach lining places before ill-advised traipses around the beer serving twit magnets of Shoreditch.
re: Simon Majumdar
>That's not a comment on the cuisine more its execution in London<
Having just been in So. Cal., I understand why many Vietnamese settled there and not in London. :-) We went to a very small but wonderful place and had a top-notch lunch. That's what got me thinking about Vietnamese over here.
Right when it opened and the crit's were in full tumescence
it all seemed to be the same shade of grey sludge.
I will have to give Little Hanoi a try.