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
Steamed ‘Pho’ paper roll
Slow cooked Mekong catfish
Stewed Saigon pork belly
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