Huong-Viet - Vietnamese in Dalston-Kingsland, London - Report
Apparently this is a very Vietnamese week for me! Had dinner at Huong-Viet tonight w/ my aunt and uncle, none of us had been here before. Sadly, the meal was not nearly as good as the one I had this weekend at Chung Viet. See: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/684407
#9b - Fried spicy prawns. Battered prawns were nicely deep fried, and served in a mash of garlic, salt and chili - similar to Chinese salt-and-pepper preparation, but with more chili. This was actually quite good, and nicely fried.
Banh xeo - My aunt and uncle had never tried this Vietnamese pancake before, and I was sorry for them that this was not a very good version. It was much too greasy, and the filling (chicken, shrimp, bean sprouts) was kind of bland.
Lamb w/ galangal - Served with vermicelli, herbs, and sauce on the side. This was okay. The lamb wasn't very exciting and not particularly flavorful, but it wasn't bad either and it reminded me of grilled lamb that I might make at home. So, nothing objectionable or particularly special.
Monkfish in claypot - I often ordered fish in clay-pot dishes at Vietnamese restaurants in the USA, with much success, so I was hoping this version would be good. It wasn't. The fish was a bit overcooked, and was in a very salty sauce which tasted mostly like soy and ginger - but concentrated. It seemed like no attention was paid to the balance or flavor of the sauce whatsoever.
Chicken salad - After success with chicken salad in Deptford, I was hoping for another success in Dalston. No luck. The preparation was more similar to a Thai papaya salad, with thin shreds of carrot, a white vegetable (either daikon or papaya? couldn't tell..), peanuts in a lime dressing. The problem was that it tasted like they had used bottled lime juice! It had that somewhat artificial/concentrated taste of bottled lime or lemon juice that you buy at the store...it wasn't horrible, but I would expect a lime-based dressing at a restaurant to be made with fresh limes. So overall, this was quite different from the Vietnamese chicken salad I am used to, and even then it was a bad rendition!
Prices were reasonable, and the place seems very popular. Tables were not very comfortable, and were cramped together. It sort of seems like this place is riding on past success....and maybe just isn't that good anymore?
I probably won't be back, since I felt that 3 of the 5 dishes we tried had some serious issues. But if others have had more success here, I might give it one more chance....
You're right, the place has definitely gone downhill. About 5 years ago it was really buzzing, especially after recommendations from Nigel Slater and others. But I have noticed the standards slip a little. I still actually go there (albeit infreuqently) with my parents cos they like it (especially the old bath house setting), but I admit it's fallen fairly far behind the good Vietnamese places in London. Left to my own devices, I probably wouldn't go back either.