I get the feeling they weren’t too pleased to have us at Viet Grill. For starters, we hadn’t booked. Second, we *sigh* had so many bags with us. Third, we didn’t know what we wanted to eat before we sat down. And from then on we certainly lacked a ruthless efficiency in our ordering, consuming, paying and leaving. Yep, they run a tight ship at the Viet Grill, there’s a definite conveyor belt vibe in place, and we were ushered fast down the road to l’ addition.
I’m not a fan of the hassle and hustle, but last night’s abundance of waiters had it down to a fine art. Barely a dish stayed on the table long enough to finish, cutlery vanished in a puff of aftershave, faces appeared left and right to bother me mid sentence and snatch morsels like harpies taking the crumbs of (yes, I’m going there) Phineas. One pair of young men seemed to be running laps round us and the fish tank, giggling and smiling at each other like Benny Hill and a broad. It was like eating supper in the middle of a running track and I half expected the barman to start up on the yakety sax.
We sat downstairs in the dungeon (as the yawning, empty ground floor was too busy apparently), surrounded by wallpapered pillars, lights in metal cages and spare places, for the best part of half an hour and worked our way through the menu. And it’s good. Oh god it’s good. Crispy Hanoi pillow dumplings with crab, shrimp, pork, scallions, mushrooms and noodles were unbelievably textured, deep walls of thick fried stodge encasing all manner of goodies that you could actually taste individually, accompanied by a spicy sauce filled with floating onions and sheets of coriander. Crispy spring rolls we only ordered to get the girl off our back at one point, but they were thin cigars of crunch entombing bulbous prawns that came atop a huge bowl of thin steamed noodles, duck pieces in seaweed, and serrated cucumber in a mint and ginger vinaigrette. I think we inadvertently ordered the ‘deluxe’ or something, but it was glorious. Prawn crackers were prawn crackers. Our photographer friend from Leeds enjoyed lacing them with some kind of Asian BBQ sauce.
A seafood and rice dish was a festival of lemongrass and shiitake mushrooms, with sweet, salty, and spicy all expertly balanced, although we did discover one sinister trick in its murky depths. Scallops were promised on the menu; what we found were two mere slivers – they actually sliced up half a scallop, which is pretty cheeky in my blog. Stewed Saigon beef brisket in lemongrass and star anise meant six hulking bricks of meat that might have been a bit more tender but did the job thanks to the wonderfully rich and tangy sauce, accompanied by a forgetful side of rice (at extra cost), while flame-wokked chicken (nice new verb there) was another garlicy and lemongrass fiesta.
In short, the food’s good. Very good. But then Viet Grill has aspirations beyond its Kingsland Road neighbours. It “offers the art of uniting Vietnamese street food and fine dining” apparently. It’s interior is modelled around the French colonial style, prices are trendily bereft of pound signs, and the menu offers items like Tamworth pork. Personally, I’m not sure I wouldn’t rather stick with the more rough and ready joints. I just need to find one that lets you linger longer than ten minutes.
Soundtrack: Some sort of faux-Pendulum BS
Clientele: Empy seats galore, with the editor of Vice at the table next to us.
Price Per Head: £23.33
Some nice pics on London Eater
Where’s your favourite Vietnamese in London? Do Song Que and Viet Grill hold the top spots or is there somewhere I’m missing? Let me know…