Thursday 31 March 2011

Viet Grill

The following is a guest post by a mate of mine-

Got invited by B’phon to come for dinner at Viet Grill with his fellow food bloggies. But on the evening only Mr. Noodle can join us. The three of us met at Shoreditch Station for a quick drink before turning up at the restaurant. It’s only 7:30 on a Tuesday evening but the restaurant is already 90% packed!

B’phon told me we’ve been here twice before in the near distant past but I don’t recognize the place or what we had! We soon shuffled downstairs to the basement which I didn't know existed. Failing memory and now failing eyesight… As for the latter: the darkness of the mock-Hakkasan interiors with arbitrarily applied eccentric English wallpapers certainly didn’t help.

I left the experts to decide on the menu and 6 dishes were called for. First one to arrive was 'Wicked Crispy Frog'. English translation: Deep Fried Chilli and Pepper Frog Legs. The batter on the frog legs was quite thick and made them look less like Barbie's arms... at least that's how I remembered they were supposed to look! But within the first bite my companions were not happy. Verdict: bland. At this point Mr. Noodle and I started to discuss the Chinese concept of “Enter the Taste” (not “Dragon”) which it seemed the frog’s legs lacked. Then the rest of the dishes came piling in. Small Hanoi Pho, Steamed ‘Pho’ paper rolls, Slow Cooked Mekong Catfish, Stewed Saigon Pork Belly, Bun Bo Hue and Water Spinach tossed in flaming wok with garlic (Mr. Noodle’s last entry as he remembered his mother kept reminding him to have his veg!).

Wicked crispy frog

Beef pho

Steamed ‘Pho’ paper roll

Slow cooked Mekong catfish

Stewed Saigon pork belly

Spring Bowl

Collectively the portions were fine and they all tasted sort of okay, somewhat bland (again). The ‘taste’ just didn’t do justice to the ingredients especially the meat dishes even though all the spices, herbs and MSG were there in full Technicolor glory. They reminded me about the sort of gentrified ethnic food you can find in those fancy named pseudo-ethnic restaurants which used to (or might still do) serve to clueless folks. Certainly didn’t taste like the real thing; didn’t even taste flavourable. You won’t die eating it but you won’t get excited or happy either. And if you’re a serious foodie like Mr. Noodle you’ll get ‘agitated’, if you’re like B’phon you’ll get ‘disappointed’… although he didn’t cry… just a bit sullen and bullied me to write up this mess!

Service wasn’t that great either; the waiters looked very busy all the time and kept kicking the legs of my chair, then hid behind a giant fish-tank or behind the far end of the bar. Mr. Noodle, having a higher BMI number than me, was again ‘agitated’ whenever he needed to go to the loo because the tables were so tightly packed not even Kate Moss could pass through, and there were indeed a few look-a-likes on the evening as evidence. And, someone needed to do something about those wobbly tables too… i.e. the diners themselves! I have no idea what ethnicity the young all-male waiters were. I don’t think they were Vietnamese or Chinese. B’phon guessed they were Kazakhstanis… No! Mr. Noodle didn’t care because he was busy trying to get them to give him the sauce that was supposed to come with the Bun Bo Hue. One waiter tried to convince him that there’s plenty already in the Bo bowl and there’s no need for more … further agitation for poor Mr. Noodle! He did get the sauce after about 10 minutes and almost looked like Victor Meldrew (don’t get me wrong, he’s much younger than me and B’phon)! The 12.5% service charge definitely looked harsh… but who’s to argue not to pay unless you really want to find out whether the waiters do Vo Thuat too!

I suppose if you’re looking for a good night out to dine at a Vietnamese restaurant and you’re not a serious foodie; or you tend to judge a restaurant by its decor before you even enter, then Viet Grill could be your choice. Within 100 yards of Pho Mile (thanks B-phon) this is by far a progression from the plastic cutlery and framed shell pictures that marked the décor of most first generation oriental restaurants in London. No doubt the Style Police or Christian Liaigre will be please to see them go. I remember some old orientals used to tell me “when a restaurant spent more money on improving its décor you can be sure that its standard of cooking is going down”. Those who have better and longer memory than mine will be able to testify whether Viet Grill is a case in point. Enjoy!

Urban Hermit © 03-2011

Mr Noodles' review here.

58 Kingsland Road,
London E2 8DP


Mr Noodles said...

You hit the nail on the head - I was agitated! And having seen the spring bowl again, I'm reminded why! Where were the herbs and salad toppings? Just like the flavours, they went missing!

katie said...

i fully agree! i was disappointed when i went here myself, bland food and terrible terrible service. it took us about an hour to get the waiters to come take our order, by the time they paid attention to us the table that had turned up beside ours had nearly finished their mains. we refused the service charge and had to rush out while the waiter returned to his friends shouting in whichever language they were speaking and we were looked daggers at en masse. i shan't be returning in a hurry!

Anonymous said...

I am Vietnamese originally and Viet Grill is not a restaurant I would choose to return. I have been there only once and did not find the food very good. I would agree that this restaurant is more for people who like eating at trendy places with nice decor etc...and don't mind if the food is not good. But for people who like good genuine Vietnamese food, this is definitely not the restaurant to go to! I find also the 12.5% service charge outrageous for this type of dining. It's more a place for a quick meal rather than fine dining! I have tried only about 4 restaurants on this road but my favourite for nice VN food is Tay Do restaurant.

bellaphon said...

Noods- I would like to suggest that the author of the review was actually rather kind to VG but if I'd written it instead, I would stand accused of my 'loose cannon' tendencies.

Katie- Thank you for passing and good on ya! To be honest I too wanted to do the same thing, but the said author (a restaurateur himself) gently tapped on my shoulder and reminded that the 'teen' waiters were probably earning a pittance.

Anon- Thank you for your comments and I'm grateful. I think we can safely say that one's unlikely to encounter Vietnamese diners (except for the boss, his family and friends when feasting off-piste)* at Viet Grill. Tay Do is fine but mine's still Loong Kee.

*VG has a ‘specials’ section in the corner of its main menu and you’ll need to give a day’s notice if you fancy any of the dishes. It reads-

''Baba nấu rượu, nấu chuối, rang muối
Thịt cầy hấp, rựa mận, chả, dồi
Lòng, dồi, tiết, canh
Canh bí nấu cua, canh cá nấu riêu
Cá chình nướng muối ớt, nấu lẩu kiểu Thái''

And which Google translates as-

''Baba wine, cooking bananas, roasted salted
Civet meat steamed, washed plum, spring, cultivate
Hearts, sausage, blood, broth
Pumpkin soup cooked crab, crab cooking fish soup
Grilled eel with salt and chilli, cooked Thai-style hotpot''

Civet !!! Weasel!!!

Anonymous said...

"Thit cay" actually means dog meat!!! It is a specialty of Northern Viet Nam. I am Vietnamese originally and I love my food...somehow I wouldn't want to try dog meat, it's probably psychological! However, some friends of mine (a Chinese from Malaysia and an Australian) went to VN and they tried dog meat cooked in five different ways. Both of them just LOVED it! They thought it was really delicious. They also tried snake but didn't really think much of it. They thought the snake was very expensive (even for them who live in London) but nothing to write home about. Anyway, coming back to the Viet Grill special menu, I am wondering where they source their dog meat from??? Maybe I should tell my friends where they can eat "Thit Cay" in London!

bellaphon said...

Anon- Gnarls Barkers...dawg meat! I knew Google translation was going to cock things up, thank you anyhow.