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Mar 15, 2008 05:24 AM

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

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