Viet Grill – Shoreditch

I love Sundays – especially since I’ve started my new Sunday hobby: Viet Grill. For the past couple months, every Sunday, you’ll find me there with the boy some time between 12:30 and 3pm, nursing a leftover Saturday night headache with the best Vietnamese food in London.

From the Goi cuon summer rolls…

to the Bánh gôi ‘Crispy Hanoi “Pillow” Dumplings’

…I’m in love.

I’ve been more adventurous with the starters, ticking them off one by one (or two by two!) as I return each weekend.  Today, we went for the Bò cuon bánh tráng starter. A sort of DIY sirloin steak rice paper roll that you cook and assemble yourself.  I don’t have a photo unfortunately, but I doubt I would have got a picture anyway, they went so fast. If you’re curious though, it looks like this. They were excellent.

For the mains, I’ve been a bit more predictable.  I just can’t stop eating the Bún Nem:

A gorgeous bowl of imperial and prawn spring rolls, served with grilled beef wrapped in grape leaves over fresh  vermicelli with mint, coriander, and a spicy fish sauce.

What amazes me about this dish is the fact that even after sitting in liquid for 15 minutes, the spring rolls are still CRISPY. Seriously as if just out of the fryer. They’re amazing.  I could eat this every day for the rest of my life and be happy.

Love Viet Grill. Love it.

Viet Grill The Vietnamese Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Pho – Oxford Circus

In London, the place to go for Vietnamese is Kingsland Road and, sadly, since I do not live nor work anywhere near it, I’ve not had great experiences with Vietnamese food.  It’s a bit similar to my quest for quest for yummy convenient Mexican food in London, which was solved when I went to Wahaca. Pho strives to do the same thing: bridge the gap between authentic ethnic street food and the modern British palette.

(Words to the wise: while pho, the dish  is pronounced ‘fuh’, the restaurant is pronounced ‘foe’)

I, along with a bunch of food bloggers and Qypers (Scott Can CookLex Eat, Essex EatingHollow Legs, Bribed with FoodKavey Eats, Domestic Sluttery, Epicurriene, Eat Love Noodles, Greedy Diva, London Insider, The London Foodie and Travels with My Fork, Mr Noodles – to name a few), was invited by Libby from Ravenous and Mathilde from Mathilde’s Cuisine to an evening at Pho’s Oxford Circus location to sample bits of the menu and get to know the owners Jules and Stephen.

Jules and Stephen gave us a bit of an introduction to the restaurant and their background, and then the food started coming – and it didn’t stop until we all had a serious serious food baby.

First up we tried (and got a chance to make Goi Cuon Tom (fresh summer rolls with prawns and fresh herbs):

I love the perfect balance of mint and coriander with fresh prawns and a sweet chili sauce. It’s a wonderful, fresh starter and perfect to cleanse the palette for more naughty things like the delicious Cha Gio (fried pork spring rolls):

Gorgeously crispy on the outside, but not greasy. I loved these. Could have eaten about 10 (but luckily stopped at 5)

Another starter was the Nem Nuong (grilled pork and lemongrass meatballs)

I won’t say I was over the moon about them – they were a bit salty from what I remember.

And finally the healthy option – Goi Ga (salad with peppers, mixed herbs and a chilli and ginger dressing)

This was my least favourite of the night. There just wasn’t enough cohesion between the ingredients. All I could taste when I took a bite was either all pepper or all coriander.  I had about one bite before I returned to the huge plate of fried spring rolls still on the table.

After the selection of starters, the servers came around and asked what we’d like for our mains – even encouraging us to get two ‘mini’ portions of things so we could try more. Suddenly my not being able to decide between Pho (their speciality) or Bun Cha (what I’d been craving) was solved.

The Pho Tai Bo Vien (pho with steak and meatballs) arrived, filled to the brim:

The broth was fabulous – a very aromatic blend of clove and star anise. Our side of the table must of looked rather peculiar with our noses hovering over the bowl for a few minutes before tucking in.  The meatballs, steak and noodles were equally delicious.

Next up, the Bun Cha Gio Tom (rice noodle bowl with juicy tiger prawns):

I love Bun Cha – and this ‘mini’ portion was the perfect size. It was full of prawns and the fantastic spring rolls. My only complaint is that it was absolutely loaded with lettuce.  It doesn’t look like it in the picture, but after mixing everything up and putting in the sweet and sour, I reckon I was left with about 60/40 lettuce vs other better things.

And for dessert, Chuoi Chien (banana fritters with honey and ginger ice cream):

I’ve never been one for banana-based desserts, and I was a little disappointed to see that apart from ice cream and sorbet, banana fritters were the only thing on the dessert menu. However, these were the best damn banana fritters I’ve ever had.  Piping hot, crispy outside, creamy inside.  Wowza.  The honey and ginger ice cream was a perfect complement too.  (You do have the choice of coconut as well, which I thought had a fairly good chance of tasting like suntan lotion when paired with banana).

So will Pho stack up against the hardcore authentic Vietnamese restaurants on Kingsland Street? I’m leaning towards ‘no’, but that’s not really the point. It’s good, cheap and convenient. I’d go again.

Little Hanoi – Shoreditch

Yes, ok, I know January posting has been light. This is because, like everyone, I was on January detox. It has thus far included a lot of porridge, a lot of experimenting with making soups (ask me about my bitchin’ Tortilla) and a lot of not drinking. It has also included two trips to Pizza East, but let’s not talk about that.

So! Last night was the first night I’ve been to a new restaurant since Christmas. Oh, how I missed it.

I found myself wondering around Shoreditch after going to the absolutely amazing Fitzrovia Radio Hour. (By the way, if you want a fun night out, do go. I can’t recommend it enough.) Anyway, after the show, it was late-ish and Leif wanted Chinese. I couldn’t find anything on my UrbanSpoon iPhone app, but no matter –  we stumbled upon Little Hanoi instead.

Tucked down Curtain Street, Little Hanoi is a small Vietnamese understated hole-in-the-wall. They were open till 11pm and had a full bar, so that was good enough for us.

The menu at Little Hanoi is huge – at least 7 pages long – which makes it difficult to narrow down when you’re absolutely famished and everything looks good. I was pleased to see they had a fairly decent wine list considering what I was expecting, so we ordered a bottle of Viognier.

We had two starters, the Spring Rolls and Salted Squid:

Little Hanoi

Little Hanoi

The spring rolls were pretty good. I wouldn’t say they were bland per se, but they definitely needed a dipping sauce. They luckily came with the brothy kind of Vietnamese sweet and sour, which was very tasty. I thought the roll itself was a bit more egg roll than spring roll. The wrapping was quite thick.

The squid was lovely. It had a really nice mix of peppers, spring onions and onions. Not too oily and not overdone. Only minor complaint is that the breading was also a bit thick. It would have been nicer and it been a bit fluffier.

For my main I went with the Sliced Duck with Ginger and Spring Onion:

Little Hanoi

Not sure what the sauce was on here. I think maybe just a general brown garlic? It didn’t really scream Vietnamese to me, but it was definitely good. The duck may have been slightly chewy, but the ginger+onion combination of flavours made up for it. I slightly worried about my breath after.

Also should mention I got a side of steamed rice with it that I could tell had been sitting around a while. And it was £2. I still find it ridiculous that they can get away with charging that much for something that probably costs them 1p per portion.

Leif went with the Beef Noodles:

little hanoi

This also didn’t scream Vietnamese to me. The noodles were just ok. I thought they needed a load more salt. The beef was the only thing that really added anything to the dish. I did, however put a few noodles with my duck instead of the stale rice – that was brilliant.

Little Hanoi is perfect for what it is – cheap East Asian cuisine, open late and smack-dab in the middle of a neighbourhood full of bars and clubs. I also hear they have a great, extremely cheap lunch buffet. I would come back here again.

Little Hanoi on Urbanspoon