I find Vietnamese food works really well for lunch meetings. You can order a few sharing dishes, but things can still stay diplomatic with your own plateful for the main. This works both ways; for meetings with people I don't know, like when I reviewed KIN on Leather Lane, and with people you do. Last Wednesday I had lunch at my new favourite Asian restaurant in London: Little Viet Kitchen in Islington with my agent where we shared some nibbles and a small plate, then both tucked into the same massive main to avoid order envy!
Before we even talk about the food, I need to note how lovely the interior is. It is quite a small restaurant (you'll need to book ahead, even for a mid-week lunch) but they've made the most of the space with a few different seating areas with their own personality. Oh, and there are vases for bright and colourful flower arrangements on the bar, and little details like bamboo chopstick holders on each table.
It is worth ordering a custom drink if you're on the hard stuff, as they infuse their own spirits and liquors. From left to right (I think from what I can remember) we have cucumber ribbons in Hendricks gin (a bit of a failure apparently, which is due to be thrown out!), chilli vodka, lemongrass in something, ginger in sake, peanuts in something else, and basil in white rum for their basil and honey daiquiris.
As I was a bit early, and rather hungry, to go with our carafe of (cucumber and lemon infused) water I ordered a portion of Vietnamese prawn crackers (the delicious, spiced ones I'm familiar with from my favourite Thai restaurant) with some of their house salsa; a rather curious, but rather wonderful mixture of finely chocolate tomato, onion and pineapple, dressed with fish sauce and topped off with some crispy fried shallots.
To start, we shared the frankly wonderful whole soft shell tempura crab; wonderfully crispy, juicy and packed with flavour. It was served with the house fish sauce, and a whole load of herbs, very finely sliced spring onions, cucumber and carrots also dressed in the sauce, making the whole thing one great big fresh flavour hit, perfectly complimenting the rich crab. While from the small plates menu the lemongrass chicken wings and some of the items on the specials board look good, you have to order this for the table (one between two) or you'll seriously be missing out (just check chef Pham's Instagram feed!)
It had been one of those months, and my agent took one look at me and told me I needed a drink, so I went for the Honey Basil Daiquiri, which was wonderfully both sharp, herbal and sweet, and went perfectly with our meal. To be honest, everything on the cocktail menu sounded delicious, as well as several gin and tonic parings, so I'd also give Little Viet Kitchen a shout out as a great spot to go on a date i the evening, ordering lots of small plates to share and working your way through the list.
We both ordered the same main course, something only available at lunchtime: a giant Bahn Xeo crispy pancake each, made with strips of pork belly and prawns in the batter (you can also get one made with poussin, or tofu and vegetables), stuffed with lightly cooked and picked vegetables and beansprouts, and served with a basket of lettuce wraps and fresh coriander and mint, ready to build up with pieces of pancake in the middle and dip into a fish sauce based dipping sauce. It was one of the most fun, interactive and enjoyable dishes I've had in ages, and we both thoroughly enjoyed it. Literally my only complaint is that I could have done with more lettuce leaves to stuff bits of my pancake into. If you don't mind sharing, one of these would be great between two, perhaps with a couple of smaller plates?
By the time we got to dessert we were both pretty full, but I needed a hit of something sweet so we asked for the dessert menu for a bit of a browse. I'm a sucker for anything with matcha in, so I went for the matcha tiramasu. It was a wonderfully rich, creamy dessert, beautifully layered and finished with coulis stuffed fresh raspberries and an edible flower. Now, don't get me wrong, I loved the dessert. However, it is literally the only place I can fault Little Viet Kitchen, because I could not actually taste the matcha in it at all, which was sad.
I rarely restaurant repeat in London as there is too much to eat in too little time, but I honestly think I will be back at Little Viet Kitchen I enjoyed so much, or perhaps I'll be grabbing something for lunch from their original street food stall down the street. I can't recommend it enough, and for you out of town people like me, it is very close to King's Cross St Pancras, both by tube to Angel and it is not too bad to walk on foot on a sunny day through Islington.