Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Viet Grill

58 Kingsland Road
London E2 8DP

020 7739 6686

I have to admit to a few prejudices before I start this. I really like Vietnamese food. We usually have a pre Christmas party and last Christmas we made Vietnamese spring rolls as canapes based on the recipe here. When they are fresh there is nothing quite like them: the soft clammy rice paper that you soak in warm water first, the mint and coriander, the vermicelli noodles, the crunchy beansprouts, the rice wine vinegar and in these soy and a prawn; they are wonderful. We wrapped about 150 of the clammy little things and they all went. I also know Malcolm Gluck who chose the wines for this restaurant and advises on the list.

Viet Grill is a new breed of Kingsland Road Vietnamese restaurant: it has decor! Purists are rather worried by this trend, would rather focus on the food in Kingsland originals which make no pretense to decor like Song Que with its stark bright lighting and crome cafe chairs. I must say I rather like the low well lit wooden tables and banana leaf murals here. Its fun and it is more decorative than its more basic competitors. There is a long bar on the right which is unoccupied at 8pm on Monday while the restaurant is filling. I wait there and order a glass of Calbulco Semillon/Cardonnay 2007 Chile £4 which Malcolm's notes tell me is "Dry yet delightfully full of stone-fruit flavours, lemon and a hint of herb. Great with sizzling seafood". One issue I have is there are only three whites and three reds that you can drink by the glass. That's a shame in a restaurant which is taking so much trouble to demonstrate wine can be a great accompaniment to Vietnamese food. The wine is simple and yes a bit sharp lemony.

I'm having dinner with an old friend and he is late. They are very charming about finding me a good table. I get the impression not that many people book on a Monday night, they just walk in so they are taking special trouble. I am even later offered another table but am happy where I am. I order fresh soft summer rolls filled with king prawn, herbs and salad wrapped in rice paper £3.50. They take a long time to come. My friend has arrived and we order when the waiter who I originally ordered the spring rolls asks if I would still like them. We say yes. They are very good with all the fresh crispy against clammy goodness they should have.

As a starter we have ordered the seafood house platter which two have to share at £7 each. It is huge and goes in the middle of the table. It has soft shelled crab which is crispy and mushy and excellent and battered prawns and lots of quite simple basic salad: cherry tomatoes, lettuce, red onion dominate. For mains we have 'slow cooked mekong catfish' £7.50. This is 'poached in caramelised fish sauce, simmered in a clay pot and finished with cracked pepper and fresh chilli'. This for me is the star dish. It comes with heat under it as you can see in the photo. The fish is flaky and sticky sweet but also chilli hot. There are two sizeable pieces: fantastic for £7. Our other choices are for me not a success. We have stewed saigon beef brisket £8, simmered in lemon grass and star anise. There are very large lumps of flaky chewy meat which are rather tasteless despite the sauce. We also order roast duck wokked with seasonal market greens and spicy sate sauce on a sizzling platter £8. The duck is tough and overcooked, flabby on the outside.

So a bit of a mixed bag overall. The food needs careful ordering. I liked the spring rolls and catfish; nothing else struck me as excellent. I nevertheless liked the place. Although it was noisy we had a lot to talk about and felt very comfortable there. Even though the first thing I ordered took a long time to come the service was unfailingly helpful and courteous. We moved to the bar and stayed a long time after finishing eating. There was no pressure to clear off as there can be in grander places. We certainly ordered more than we needed and most of the beef and a lot of the duck got left. My friend doesn't drink. I had two glasses of the Chilean white and another glass of Spanish red after the meal. As with tapas eating lots of smaller courses and drinking wine by the glass mounts up. The bill managed to get to £74 but you could eat there much more cheaply. I would go back and try other things. As I said I felt very comfortable there even though I was disappointed in some of the things we ordered.

Viet Grill The Vietnamese Kitchen on Urbanspoon

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