On the Vietnamese strip, it seems the more basic the restaurant, the more authentic the food.
When you’re in the mood for something fresh and light, I usually find that there’s not much better than a good Vietnamese.
With that in mind, we headed down to Kingsland Road (where else), intent on paying a visit to Viet Grill. We arrived at around 6.30pm on Saturday and were seated without much fuss. The fuss sadly came when we were then told that they needed the table back in 45mins! Table turned in less than an hour. Oh really? Needless to say we left. There are around a dozen Vietnamese restaurants within a five minute walk, so there were plenty of other options. Surely they should point that out before you sit down.
We decided to look for somewhere more down to earth. Somewhere that serves real Vietnamese food. One option was Song Que Cafe, possibly the place with the tastiest pho, but our last lunch there didn’t go according to plan. The service was bad, the food mediocre at best and there were workmen on ladders drilling holes in things.
With this in mind, we headed for Loong Kee Café at the far end of the Vietnamese strip. We’ve been there once before and enjoyed our meal – especially their bahn cuon (steamed rice rolls), which don’t appear on every menu. The restaurant itself is pretty basic in terms of furnishings and was almost half full when we arrived, so obviously this doesn’t deter anyone. If anything, you know it’s not going to cost you an arm and leg! They also allow BYO, so come prepared. We didn’t bother and instead stuck to their Vietnamese beer, which was itself a bargain at just £2.80 per bottle.
We ordered a portion of 12 pork and mushroom bahn cuon, a raw beef salad, deep fried soft shelled crab, shaking beef, stir-fried morning glory with garlic and Vietnamese special fried rice. What can I say? Pigs have healthy appetites.
It arrived with a plate of shredded iceberg lettuce and nước chấm (dipping sauce). It’s served covered in moreish deep fried shallots, which added a welcome crunchy element. If you’re a fan of cheung fun (a Cantonese dim sum dish), you’ll love these. They are more delicate than cheung fun, the rice sheets are a lot thinner and filling is more flavoursome. If you haven’t tried them, give them a go!
The soft shell crab was nice and crispy and not at all greasy. It wasn’t the meatiest crab I’ve ever seen but it was a good portion size for the price. I invariably find that raw beef salad is always a winner, it’s definitely one of our favourite cold dishes. I couldn’t see a great deal of meat, but it’s so delicious that it didn’t matter. The sourness and spice of the dish with the savoury thinly sliced red onion is a fantastic combination. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.
We wanted to try the shaking beef as it is a dish we’ve seen often on menus, but never ordered. It was tasty but not outstanding. We don’t have another example to compare it to, so I’m not sure how authentic the taste of this dish was. The sauce tasted like a cross between soy sauce and oyster sauce. I don’t think I’d order this again, at least not at Loong Kee.
The rice dish was huge! We managed to eat it all but we must’ve had at least three bowlfuls each. It was a good choice, you can’t beat decent fried rice. There were a lot of different ingredients in it, but not in a nasty, leftovers kind of way. Our last dish was morning glory, a great option if you want to pick a vegetable side dish. If you’ve ever been backpacking in Thailand, I’m sure you’ve had this before, but don’t order it if you’re not a garlic fan. Take advantage as it’s quite expensive to buy to cook at home.
We were extremely satisfied after this meal, it had well and truly scratched our Vietnamese itch. For the amount of food we ate and the quality of every dish, we think this place is a real gem. Yes it’s not fine dining, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t any good. This is a prime example of substance winning over style. On the Vietnamese strip, it seems the more basic the restaurant, the more authentic the food. Don’t you agree? Oh and we were at the table for the best part of two hours.
Meal for two (as you can see we ordered enough for three) with drinks – £57.00
Address: 134G Kingsland Rd, London, E2 8DY
Phone: 020 7729 8344