Places To Eat In London: Vietfood, Chinatown
It was recently brought to my attention that for someone who does not see things made with the holy trinity of garlic, chilli and ginger, or that have not been seasoned with soy sauce rather than salt as traditional home cooking, I spend a hell of a lot of time in Chinatown. I’m actually working on a guide to my favourite places to eat and shop when I’m in the area, but for now when Chinatown reached out and asked if I wanted to go for dinner in the district to celebrate (a little belatedly I admit!) Chinese New Year I decided to buck the trend and go for somewhere I’d had my eye on for a while (their queues at lunchtime rival those at Bubblewrap!): Vietfood. I wanted to show that there was more to Chinatown than just Chinese food and flavours.
While we did not order any, the reason for the massive queue every lunchtime is the pho station in the window where traditional, lovingly prepared bowls of pho are prepared for the hungry diners. I watched loads of the bowls leave the kitchen, and this is done properly: homemade noodles, slow cooked, aromatic broth, and lots of little plates of herbs and other condiments to customise your bowl.
We spent some time deliberating over a couple of simply excellent lychee martinis, if we were going to go down a pho/ bun bowl route with a couple of starters, or order a few more, smaller plates so we could try more from the menu, including from the ‘Vietnamese tapas’ section. Obviously we went in this direction, but to be honest I think to really try the best of what Vietfood has to offer you need to go at least twice!
I got to the restaurant a little early so while I was waiting for our table to be ready I spent some time scoping out what dishes that were being delivered to other tables looked like must-orders. The Coconut Calamari (which is one of their signature dish) is something that you can’t miss out on: the coconut gives a wonderful, unusual sweetness, the calamari is beautifully crisp and not greasy at all (one of my pet peeves!) and the squid was impossibly tender. The sauce went together beautifully; they were just perfect.
Another dish I had my eye on (and one of my all time favourite Vietnamese foods) were the fresh prawn summer rolls. These were also perfect, everything you want them to be, though I really was not on board with using thick, sweet hoisin sauce with a daub of chilli sauce as a dipping sauce; I went down the more traditional route and used the rolls to mop up the sauces from our next dish instead.
Next we had the Saigon-style Grilled Scallop and prawns. The seafood was, like the squid, deliciously tender, and the marinade really packed a punch as far as flavour was concerned. The Chargrilled Lemongrass Chicken Wings were also delicious, though I was a bit dissapointed with the lemongrass aspect; just when I make lemongrass chicken at home, you only got some of the lemongrass flavour every few bites or so. Oh, and while all the pickled garnishes at Vieftood can be eaten, some are better than others: do not leave the carrot and daikon on the serving plate, I actually wish you could order a dish of it on the side!
We ordered our last two savoury dishes with a pot of aromatic steamed rice: soft shell tempura crab tossed with onions and chilli (fantastic amount of crunch, good amount of crab meat, but it lacked some of the pizzaz of everything else we’d eaten so far) and a simply fantastic stir fry of duck and green papaya. Get this, it is truly excellent and so different from the stir fry dishes you’ll find in Chinese, Thai and Japanese restaurants.
We opted for two desserts to share, both things we’d never had before. We both loved the coco momo (a bit like a very coconutty chocolate fudge) topped with a scoop of (very salted) mint ice cream. I know this sounds strange/ scary, but it is actually amazing, the perfect balance of salted and sweet, and with lovely flavours. They only make a limited number of these each day, so don’t miss out and get your order in quickly! Our other pudding was a bowl of pandan flavoured coconut milk with sago pearls (a bit like a cross between sweet pasta and rice pudding) and pieces of caramelised banana. This tasted lovely, but got sweeter and sweeter with every bite, so I could only manage a few. Order if if you like really sweet, unusual desserts.