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Vietnamese places on Kingsland Road, Hackney, London

• Viet Grill
Bo la lot (minced beef wrapped in lot leaves) carried some of the herby flavours well. Topped with chopped peanuts and eaten wrapped in lettuce leaves with rice vermicelli and pickles. Disappointed that they didn't serve the Hue-style dumplings anymore. Perhaps just as well, the Bun Bo Hue, a spicy Hue-style noodle soup, was barely spicy and could have used pork or beef knuckles in addition to the basic beef slices. Tofu, sizzling on a hot iron plate, was a fairly deft rendition.

• Thang Loi
Banh tom ho tay, shredded sweet potato pressed and fried as a pancake with a whole prawn in the centre, was pretty good - clean and crispy without any heavy oily-ness. (You eat the whole prawn, head, tail, shell and all.) This was definitely one of the nicer things I had among the Vietnamese places on Kingsland Road. Bun Bo Hue was perhaps a touch better than Viet Grill's but nothing special.

• Tay Do
This one's basic and unassuming. The pork combination starter was homey: slivers of pork skin sliced thicker than I'm used to, wish there was more toasted rice powder; a vietnamese "salami" was not bad, and perhaps my favourite of the three was the sour minced pork. OK on the whole. The "dry" (refers to style, not quality -- i.e. soup on the side) tapioca noodles with slices of pork and bean sprouts was basic and is a good example of brute force -- a huge amount of crispy pork fat, chopped into tiny cubes and fried, provides heavy ammunition in the soup, and effectively camouflaged by the airy cilantro. Nowhere as subtle as the noodle dishes back home, but they get an A for effort.

• Tay Do Cafe (across the street)
The special spring rolls were fine and certainly not exceptional -- minced pork with the refreshing crunch of water chestnuts. Hui Tieu Nam Vang, a Teochew style noodle soup works well -- a basic combination of pork, a single prawn, a quail's egg, a thick but tender slab of squid, along with careful bits of fried pork fat, caramelized shallots, scallions and cilantro.

• Viet Hoa Cafe
Probably my favourite among the fried spring rolls (cha gio) that I tried on Kingsland Road. Get the one with salad -- you get to wrap them in lettuce leaves with a bit of pickled carrots and radish for dipping into the standard Vietnamese sweet sauce. Banh Xeo, a vietnamese crepe filled with savoury items (in this case prawn, pork and bean sprouts) was satisfying. Ok homemade lemonade.

• Hanoi Cafe
The cha gio were fine, as were the Bun special with all sorts of stuff: cha gio, fried meatball, grilled beef with spring onions and garlic, and the usual supporting case of shredded carrots, pickles, lettuce, mint. Coconut juice wasn't bad but wasn't great either. Lots of crunchy textures (peanuts, dried coconut) in the black sesame dumplings with ginger broth. A competent dessert, but the dumpling aren't as good as you'll ever get (the best ones are more delicate and chewy, mochi lovers will understand).

• Au Lac
I really liked the special vietnamese fried pork rolls -- a pleasant, light bouncy texture with a delicate pork flavour. The Pho Dac Biet (pho with beef and chicken) was fine and the broth was pretty good. (This place is currently closed for renovation.)

• Song Que Cafe
Ok cha gio, good pho. Their version of Pho Dac Biet (dac biet means "special") was probably the best of the lot - good amount of meat: tripe, dark dense shank, rare tender slices of tenderloin. Good broth too; bonus for the slice of lime, not lemon.

• Leong Kee
Excellent banh cuon thit - steamed rice sheets filled with minced pork. The rice sheets were fresh and chewy, the filing was judicious and nicely seasoned. Good balance. Bun (rice vermicelli) with grilled beef wasn't bad, although the beef could have been a touch more tender.

From this limited sampling, the highlights tended to be starters:
• banh tom ho tay @ Thang Loi
• cha gio @ Viet Hoa
• special Vietnamese fried pork rolls @ Au Lac
• banh cuon @ Leong Kee.

Pho at Song Que was the best of the ones I tried. Nothing stirring among the homemade juices; I'm still looking for the sour plum with soda water. Yet to explore the main dishes. Bummed that the places listing the occasional out of the way item, like the hue-style dumplings, don't serve them anymore.

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  1. This is fantastic. Thanks for your hard work! I hope these reviews are the result of meals spread out over months, and not a week's worth of dining out! I'm going to pick a couple to try out. Which is your absolute favourite?

    Helen Yuet Ling Pang

    13 Replies
    1. re: foodie guide

      I'm not sure, Helen. This is the man who ate about 15 chocolates at one go for a taste taste!! I'm wondering about this, too. :-)

      1. re: zuriga1

        Eating isn't hard work, but I did space things out over a month or so for variety. It is important to remember (as I stated above) that it's only a limited sampling.

        I don't have an absolute favourite, but different things at different places that I highlighted were worth going back for.

        1. re: limster

          Excellent - another enjoyable read!

          Where are you from Limster - I always assumed you were a Londoner?

          I was in Tre Viet on Mare street the other week and had Caramel nonkey fish (sp) with rice which was really nice - quite an unusual flavour.

          1. re: Nii

            Thanks for your kind words. I just moved here a few months ago from Boston, and to be honest, barely know my way around. But my friends have been generous with pointers about where to explore. I was thinking about starting on Mare street next, or checking about the Turkish places in the area.... Did Tre Viet use regular rice or broken rice?

            1. re: limster

              I'm not too sure what rice type I had to be honest. I definitely want to go back. I had a really hard time deciding what to order, as it all looked really good! How does Vietnamese in London compare to Boston?

              1. re: Nii

                The comparison is hard, because different places in the two cities tend to serve different things. Furthermore, I've only sampled a few places here, and hardly in a comprehensive way. The best answer I can give is that there are particular dishes in particular restaurants in each of the cities that I like/prefer.

                1. re: limster

                  I've mentioned it on here before, but I love Viet on Greek in Soho, central london, it's one of my favourite places for Vietnamese in London - have you been there Limster?

                  1. re: Nii

                    Afraid I haven't been there yet...will put on the to-do list!

              2. re: limster

                Limster, if you want to try Turkish, you must get on a bus and head up the Kingsland Road a little further to Dalston/Stoke Newington. Practically every other shop is a Turkish restaurant. Mangal is the famous one, and rightly, but there are plenty which are comparable. Further up the road, there is a place called Teste (in fact a Turkish word for a water jug) in which grilled lambs testicles are the delicious speciality (really).

                1. re: BritishNancy

                  Great - I really appreciate your guidance!

            2. re: limster

              Well, I'm definitely going to pick a couple to try. Can't believe you've only been in London a few months. You're certainly a keen eater! Thanks again...

              Helen Yuet Ling Pang

              1. re: limster

                You have the right idea... and obviously you keep meticulous notes on your experiences. And people assume you've been here awhile and are a real connaisseur of London cuisine!!

            3. re: foodie guide

              I live just round the corner of Kingsland Road and just back from Vietnam after 1 year working for the Red Cross, and I found that Viet Grill is my best favourite. Their menu is absolutely up-to-date with what is actually on some of the hottest restaurant in Hochiminh City (Saigon). Their chef might travel there quite often. Dishes like Feudal Roasted Beef, Basa Fish with lemongrass, Duck simmered in young peppercorn you could never find anywhere except paying for jet-lag to Saigon. Surprisingly the flavour is as same as what I have in Saigon months ago. This also the first oriental restaurant buying their meat and poultry from english farm (I know it is a lot more more expensive than going to Hoohing and Seawoo, but we have the quality.

              Try to go there in the weekend as they have different specialty every week. Last week I have the duck in orange which is extremely good.

              Their sister restaurant Cay Tre in Old Street is also very good, they tend to do street food and noodle soup. Try their wonton noodle soup in Vietnamese style, far more better than chinatown

            4. Limster, I'm fairly sure that I already know the answer to this question but any sign whatsoever of any kind of banh mi culture in that part of the world? I have never been able to find any in London (if, that is, you exclude Pho on St John St and I do exclude it) and have been greeted with blank and puzzled expressions when I have asked local shopkeepers and restaurant folk.

              I'm not sure I understand the absence of banh mi here - OK it's not the world's biggest Vietnamese community but I don't recall, from my travels in Vietnam, banh mi being regional in any way and I can't think of any other explanations as to why it's missing.

              4 Replies
              1. re: oonth

                Nope, haven't seen any banh mi at any of these places, but I wasn't expecting to, given how specialised Vietnamese places can be.

                1. re: limster

                  Agreed that you wouldn't expect to find banh mi on the menu of say a pho or other specialist house but I guess that I am surprised at the absence of a Vietnamese bakery culture which is where you would ordinarily expect to find banh mi. That bakery culture appears to be alive and well in Little Saigons in NYC, Melbourne and on the West Coast of the US amongst other places. Not the biggest headache to do home made banh mi but still frustrating that we don't have at least a couple of outlets. In desperation I may even resort to trying the Pho version which I suspect may turn out to be faux :-)

                2. re: oonth

                  Oonth - why do you discount the banh mi at Pho? I quite like them and some of their other dishes, it's not as good as some other places I've been to however.

                  1. re: Nii

                    I'll admit I'm judging the book by its cover but I don't expect to be blown away by the banh mi on offer at Pho based upon the look of the place and the description on their website menu. No sign of BBQ pork or chicken, no sign of Vietnamese pate or sausage, not even a mention of the pickled+julienned veggies that are so definitional of a good banh mi. And they seem to be trying to cover all the Vietnamese bases rather than specialising in one or two subsets, I'm not sure that bodes well. And then there's the price, ouch.

                    Anyway in the absence of any Vietnamese bakeries in our Little Saigon, I will go with open mind, sample a Pho banh mi and report back.

                    Do you know anywhere else in London where you can get banh mi by the way?

                3. Limster, I like your chow style. I posted a message a couple months back on this very same site. You can do a quick search on the word Viet and find the last discussion thread on Viet food. This is an excerpt from that post that you will appreciate...

                  "One of my favorite dish is Bun Bo Hue, spicy beef soup and there is this little dive in Deptford callled Cafe East that does a superb rendition. I go out of my way to eat here often and find that this place is the true winner for Pho and Bun Bo Hue and pretty much everything Vietnamese. Be warned, it's tiny (seats about 25) and you will find limited info doing an internet search."

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Noogs

                    Many thanks for the tip on Cafe East. Do they make other Hue style dishes? Been looking for banh beo and other things....

                    1. re: limster

                      Unfortunately, no banh beo or Hue specific influence. That being said, I gather the cook might be from the Hue region from the taste of his Bun Bo Hue.

                    2. re: Noogs

                      Had a sensational pho at Cafe East yesterday. Made a schoolboy error of adding a bit too much chilli, but it was great none the less. A mix of rare and well done beef and plenty of it. The broth was delicate yet flavourful.

                      The place is a schlep to get to and is very small. But all in all worth a 20 min wait.

                    3. I know it`s not exactly the topic, but anyways: i`m coming to London for a few days and would like to know if anybody knows a place, where I can buy the actual pot for vietnamese Hot Pot? have been searching for about a year now, but there`s nothing on the internet or in denmark... so please help me!

                      7 Replies
                      1. re: danishpastry

                        Do you mean a clay pot? You can probably pick one up in Chinatown (Gerrard Street), but if not then Mare Street in Hackney is where the Vietnamese shops are. Good luck.

                        1. re: greedygirl

                          Thank you. I don`t mean a clay pot, it`s like a metal pot with a heater underneath - well, can`t really explain it, but will try Mare Street.

                          1. re: danishpastry

                            You mean a steamboat? Personally, I'd use my fondue set, but I imagine Mare Street will probably have them!

                            1. re: greedygirl

                              yeah, it`s close to a fondue set, but since i don`t have that neither, i`d rather get the real thing right away...;) thanks again!

                              1. re: danishpastry

                                Have a look in the larger Chinese supermarkets like Loon Fung, or go to Oriental City in Colindale. How about just using a normal pot (I use a Columbian clay pot, while my friend has a metal pot with a divider down the middle, and a glass lid) and placing it on a portable gas cooker? People prefer gas to electric cookers, as it's easier to control the heat. The 4th photo in my post on 'What is Sichuan Hot Pot' shows both pots in use. Let me know if I've misunderstood what you're after!

                                Good luck!
                                Helen Yuet Ling Pang

                                1. re: foodie guide

                                  No, you didn`t misunderstand, that`s it! I know I could use a normal pot, I just have had this idea in my head of having a set since being in Vietnam (didn`t have space in my luggage then), but that`s mostly due to the aesthetics... I`ll try the supermarkets, you suggested, thank you for your help!

                                  1. re: danishpastry

                                    Great! I know what you mean about the aesthetics though. My mum always used to use a very old electric rice cooker for hot pot when I was growing up. Not very attractive, but it did the job!

                                    Helen Yuet Ling Pang

                      2. I just noticed that Viet Grill has a £6 special (ends this week) for lunch (2 courses) - higher for dinner. It's offered through london-eating.co.uk.

                        1. I went to new kid on the block Mien Tay the other week, after a diverting visit to the Geffry Museum. We didn't order that much, as it was a funny time of day, but the fresh spring rolls were pretty good. We also had spicy spare ribs (excellent, although I didn't get much of a look-in as Mr GG really liked these), and a sweet and sour seafood soup, which had a nice balance of flavours but too much pineapple for my liking!

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: greedygirl

                            Tried Mien Tay last week and thought it was great. The beef hot pot with vinegar particularly stood out.

                            Anyone have a clear favorite of all of these places? Also, are there any Vietnamese sandwich places around?

                          2. Three more places, after some openings and closings:

                            • Pho Sweet Basil
                            Probably my favourite bun on Kingsland Rd so far. Good cha gio (fried spring rolls) with crispy, blistery skin, savoury minced pork filling. Ok sliced of grilled pork, a touch to flabby but otherwise a pleasant lemongrass flavour. Excellent prawns, plump and ripping easily on the teeth.

                            • Mien Tay (where Thang Loi used to be)
                            A sweet and lightly sour lotus root salad, sharp flavours, boosted with aromatic caramelised shallots and crushed peanuts. And a nice bite from spicy rings of red chilli slices. Good prawns and crunchy lotus roots. A very pleasant dish.

                            The bo la lot, beef wrapped in lot/betel leaves, was fine, but I wanted more out of it. I yeqarned for stronger herbal flavours from the lot leaves and a more intense beefy flavour. Comes with purplish perilla leaves, mint, crinkle cut shreds of carrots, cucumber, a base of rice vermicelli and lettuce leaves for wrapping them. Comes with the usual sweet dipping sauce.

                            • Que Viet (where Au Lac used to be)
                            I liked the dishes that I tried here a lot, hopping to get more.

                            Tender minced pork and little diced pieces of snails, slightly resilient but not chewy (echoes of abalone here), steamed in the shells, give off a herbal sweetness (bay leaf?) and the fragrance of lemongrass.

                            Ban Xeo is much more delicate than other versions. Instead of being covered with crunchy patches of caramelisation in most renditions, this version is thin, light and evenly crispy. Deft hand with the filling, dominated by perfectly crunchy bean sprouts and tender curls of prawns. Standard accompaniments: lettuce, mint and perilla leaves, cucumber and carrot shreds, along with the sweet nuoc cham for dipping.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: limster

                              I went to Song Que on Friday night and thought it was just okay. I was surprised about their choices (Chinese and Vietnamese???) and the fact they didn't have shakes at all. Would anyone know where I can find various shakes like red bean, avacados, lychee etc at Vietnamese places?

                              1. re: felizglfr

                                i agree that some of the dishes at song que are average at best . We try most of the other vietnamese restaurants once or twice but we always go back to song que and the reason is my wife needs her fix of pho and in our humble opinion it is easily the best in london . We genuinely prefer the vast array of quality dishes at either cay tre (10 min walk from kingsland road) or viet grill (very good , but not upto cay tre quality ) , however their respective pho's are boring to the point that when we eat at cay tre we never have the pho . But the likes of cha ca la vong more than make up for it .
                                We love pho and sometimes my wife will settle for nothingelse !

                            2. Viet Hoa Cafe Cha Gio is so wrong - they use the chinese spring roll wrappers which result in a non crispy wrapping and the dipping sauce has no depth - the best version of this used to be at Saigon in soho which is now sadly closed but this is a pale imitation of what it should be - I was really dissapointed in this place

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: bleep75

                                Thanks for the update - sorry to hear that they don't use the blistery wrappings anymore.

                              2. Limster, thanks so much for posting these! I had read this post bitterly when I was in Dublin (was terribly jealous) but forgotten about it. Now that I've moved over to London I'm definitely going to give some of these a go.

                                Anyone up for a pho crawl?

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: Lina

                                  You're very welcome; it's the least I can do, given the plethora of delicious info I've gained from the board. However, I've only scratched the surface having only tasted a very small number of dishes; plus, it's already been many months and I suspect it's already out of date. Hope to hear more from everyone!

                                  1. re: Lina

                                    maybe a bit late in the day, but i'd be all over a pho crawl.. drop me a line meyerism at hotmail dot com ... :)

                                  2. An update on Cay Tre is that it seems to be back on song again. I think it went down hill a couple of years ago, but I went there last week and it was great. The vietnamese pancake was lovely - it was often very soggy before, but it was very crisp and great flavours. The spring rolls were tasty, but a bit greasy. The duck curry was beautiful with real depth of flavour and the shaking beef was very tender and had a good kick to it with the chillis and the dip it comes with.

                                    1. can anyone tell me which of the places mentioned have the best vegetarian selection? Thanks!

                                      1. • A new place that opened next to Song Que called "That Vietnamese Place."
                                        I really liked the Vietnamese spring rolls (cha nem?), especially the crunchy thick skins, the savoury filing of minced pork and black fungus, nicely seasoned.

                                        Banh xeo (crepes eaten with basil, mint, pickled, wrapped in lettuce leaves) is not bad, fairly light and crisp, the filling a touch on the wet side, so somewhat undermined the bottom side. But fairly deft stir frying of the mixed filling (prawns, chicken, pork, bean sprouts and other veg).

                                        Pho tai nam was enjoyable, even if it came with lemon instead of lime. The broth, while not as deep as Cafe East or Song Que, had a pleasant smooth and savoury flavour. The beef flank had a really good deep beefiness, occasionally rimmed with delightfully chewy bits. Also thin slices of rare beef that were very tender.

                                        Finally, had a bun (rice vermicelli) with Vietnamese spring rolls and lovely marinated pork - tender thin slices with a good lemongrass flavour.

                                        A fine vietnamese ice coffee.

                                        Not bad mung bean dumplings filled with what I thought was red bean paste with a good sweet ginger broth.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: limster

                                          • Hung Viet (found that it replaced That Vietnamese Place on a trip to Dalston)

                                          Grilled pork meatballs were very savoury, wrapped in rice crepes (softened in warm water at the table), together with pickled carrots and turnip/radish, red chilli slices, rice vermicelli, basil, Vietnamese shiso, mint, shredded lettuce and a spicy sweet umami dipping sauce with a hint of fish sauce pungence. The main courses look like they're worth digging deeper into; hope to hear more.

                                        2. hi Limster. Last week i went to the restaurant on Kingsland road wth bright green walls and Lobsters as decorations (sounds hideous but it was great - i forgot the name though). I dont know much about vietnamese food and want to explore a little more tomorrow night at a different place on Kingsland road. What do you reccommend?

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: beckypoostchi

                                            I didn't try a comprehensive set of dishes so my info is very impressionistic. There didn't seem to be a best overall, and some restaurants were better at some dishes.

                                            I liked:

                                            spring rolls/cha nem at That Vietnamese place
                                            pho/beef rice noodle soup at Song Que
                                            bun thit nuong (rice vermicelli with grilled pork, prawns and spring rolls) at Pho Sweet Basil
                                            banh cuon (rice sheets filled with mince pork, topped with bean sprouts and fried shallots) at Leong Kee
                                            banh xeo (crispy crepe with various meat/seafood fillings) at Que Viet

                                            Enjoy your explorations and hope to hear more about these and other places.

                                          2. A bit of a general question... hopefully not too OT:

                                            How do you think pho in London compare to pho in Boston (and/or NYC)? What about Vietnamese food generally? Despite the lack of a major bahn mi scene, it sounds from your reports like there could be a much greater variety of Vietnamese options in London.

                                            4 Replies
                                            1. re: cimui

                                              I haven't found great pho here, but Song Que works in a pinch. I wouldn't travel across the Atlantic for it though.

                                              On the whole, I'm quite satisfied with the Vietnamese food here so far, but I've only scratched the surface, with a couple of dishes from most. There still plenty to try.

                                              I think the newer places on Kingsland Road are better, and need to schedule a return trip to Que Viet, whose cooking I think might be a notch more careful than the rest, their main dish items look interesting to me, as do the ones from Hung Viet. One of the newer places (forgot which one) seems to have hot pot -- I'd take a look at that too.

                                              1. re: limster

                                                The pho that launched a thousand ships... Ah well, better for all of us that there's no pho in London worth traveling across the pond for. :)

                                                Just spent a very enjoyable half hour plugging many of your suggestions into my handy dandy Google map. Kingsland Rd. is going to make for a nice Saturday or Sunday expedition, methinks! Now I just have to plot out my running path so I can end up at some of these places REALLY hungry.

                                                1. re: cimui

                                                  The Jeffrye Museum is worth a look if you're on the Kingsland Road. You can also take in the Colombia Road flower market, which is very pleasant if the weather's nice.

                                                  1. re: greedygirl

                                                    Thank you, greedygirl! Good ways to work up an appetite. :)