Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Que Viet

The day I stop eating Vietnamese is when my snout is pickled in a jar and displayed at the Royal College of Surgeons. Vietnamese cuisine holds a very dear place in my foodie heart. It’s technically closer to the cuisine of the Southern Chinese than the usual South East Asian stalwarts of Malaysian or Thai. It combines the ying and yang of cooking and serving food perfectly. Three words sum up the food for me, it’s always fresh, fragrant and soul-enhancing. In my books, Vietnamese cooking also belongs to the top five cuisines of the world.

Phở is the iconic dish of Vietnam. I judge all the Vietnamese restaurants I go to on this beef noodle dish alone. If the cook botches the beef stock up then I’m sorry to say that her or his claim as a Vietnamese chef is adamantly suspect. The broth has to be light in appearance but rather contradictorily, the flavour cannot be anything else but intense; one has to be able to appreciate a whiff of the beefiness, the Saigon cinnamon, star anise and cloves. If any of the primary ingredients in the broth goes AWOL, then it’s safe to say that the Phở is vaguely approximate. The raw beef slices should be added in the kitchen at the very last minute, (for the squeamish, be rest assured that the heat of the broth will cook the meat in a matter of minutes). The rice noodles shouldn’t be overcooked and the garnishes should at least include coriander leaves and Thai basil. If the accompanying bean sprouts are off coloured, avoid. Phở is street food but one that has to be prepped and cooked with a degree of passion. Once you encounter a good bowl of the dish, you’ll be hooked.

Que Viet resembles less of a canteen than the other restaurants on The Pho Mile. It’s newer and done up in a tad ‘more with the times’ mentality. The young waiters are kitted out in uniforms that are reminiscent of colonial hotel style. The service is helpful and friendly. Unlike some of the other restaurants like Loong Kee or Song Que, one gets the feeling that you’re not rushed in order to free the table up for those waiting; it’s more relaxed like a proper restaurant ought to be.

Strong and sweet tasting Vietnamese Iced Coffee.
If there ever was a pre-dessert before the mains and starters, this fits the bill by default.

Bánh cuốn
These filled rolled cakes were steamed beautifully. Banh cuon is another dish that determines the authenticity of the kitchen’s prowess. The pork filling was excellent as well as generous. Unfortunately we had to scoff the lot up pretty quickly as our table (avoid number 8) was in the direct vent path of the air conditioner.

Phở bò
Astounding broth, sometimes it pays to have this dish in the evening when the stock has been maximising in the flavour department for hours on end. The only slight let down was the overcooked beef slices, otherwise one of the best pho bos we’ve had.

Bún thịt nướng
This is one of my favourite dishes. This is essentially a cold vermicelli/salad dish served with an accompanying bowl of diluted Nước chấm (fish sauce), the idea is to drown the entire dish with it. I was surprised to find Que Viet offering grilled goat with this dish as an alternative to the usual pork, Vietnamese spring rolls or prawns. I nagged to the young lad that if it came with lamb I wasn’t going to pay for it.

It was indeed goat, stronger and more rustic tasting than lamb. The meat was tender beyond expectations. I found the dish ‘historic’.

Deep-fried chilli and garlic eel
Hardly Vietnamese, but I couldn’t resist eel (smack me wrist by all means, what with the questionable sustainability).
Please ‘let me be faceless, nameless, innocent, blameless and free’*; the eel was ethereal.

Que Viet is certainly one of the better Vietnamese restaurants in London. It comes with my blessing. Highly recommended.

*Borrowed from Natalie Merchant’s must hear song, Motherland.

102-104 Kingsland Road
E2 8DP


Hollow Legs said...

Whoa there - goat?! Sounds delicious! I'll add it to my (ever growing, never shrinking) list...

Ben said...

I had some great Pho in 'nam. Best was early morning in Sapa - but that might have been the view!

For some reason I thought this mile was in the arse end of nowhere, but looking at the map I think I'll have to have a trip sooner rather than later.

Can't beat a cafe sua da, specially if the beans have been digested by some mammal beforehand..

PS - I've put together something you might be interested in..

Helen said...

I still can't believe I haven't been here yet - a crime!!! Now I know they have goat I can't wait to go. I made curry goat recently and loved the flavour of the meat. I'd love to try it in a Vietnamese preparation. I also love the eel so slap my wrist also!

Food.By Mark. said...

Hmm... I'm going to check this place out. Tonight.

meemalee said...

My local Canh Buom is by no means perfect, but does do a mean bun thit nuong with goat :)

It also does something called fried fat ends which you have to try!

bellaphon said...

Lizzie- The wondrous thing with dining Vietnamese is one doesn't have to pay haute cuisine prices.

Ben- Weasel coffee; I must give that a go! Sure thing with the list, email us soon.

Helen- I read your recipe of the curried goat with severe tumble rumbles...only if I cooked, sigh.

Mark- Fingers crossed.

Meemalee- Thank you for mentioning Canh Buom, I've actually been there once and I need to go back there before I write up about it. DM me when you're next in the vicinity; the summer rolls are on me.

If pho is the dish that defines Vietnam, then fat ends or mutton flaps are embarrassingly the unofficial food of the lil' island of Tonga!

Ben said...


"Now I’m a sucker for under represented cuisines in London. If a new Mongolian opens offering mare’s milk pudding or a Peruvian specialising in roasted Guinea pig then I’m all for it and at the same time if the offer of great food and good service is in evidence I’ll be gutted if the business fails. I turned up tonight for a quickish solo supper before Liverpool kicks off against PSV Eindhoven."


bellaphon said...

Ben- Danke. Sad, more to come I expect!

Ben said...

So I went to Loong Kee at the weekend and have to say, the Pho was fantastic.

Strange thing is I'd never seen those gelatinous rolls before.

Do you know which on the strip do Chả giò or Bánh bao?

Do any of them do those dodgy 'pate' steak baguettes?

bellaphon said...

Ben- Loong Kee can be hit and miss, happy to know your noodles was the former. Vietnamese spring rolls or cha gio are something I usually avoid as I suspect they're usually bought-in and deep-fried from frozen. As for the Viet version of Scotch Egg encased in a bun, possibly too acquired a taste and form for most Brits.
I need to totter down to Broadway Market soon where there's a stall selling Bánh mì or baguette sarnies that's gaining a pilgrimage status rather suddenly.

Ben said...

I don't think your average Brit would turn their nose up at Banh Bao, and I've had similar Chinese versions from that stall in Chinatown (pork version is a bit catfoody). And London is crying out for a bia hoi...

Suzen said...


bellaphon said...

Ben- Hells bells, you're obviously one of the eight out of ten cats who enjoys Whisk...

Suzen- Verily and so be it. London awaits you.

Anonymous said...

the girls at Bahn MI 11 in broadway market are doing Pho in addition to the the yummy baguettes and it's worth a journey. Although at 6 quid it's only just shy of what you would pay to sit down in comfort it's consistently brillant. Also, their B-B-Q squared variation on a Bahn Mi is a must try. And don't forget Rob's stall. He misses out on the girls charm but the Bahn Mi is first-rate (and the dumplings too).