When it comes to food, French people do a lot of things really well; steaks that are still mooing when they arrive at the table, sauces with a lot of booze in them, tiny cakes that remind you of your childhood. What they don’t ever seem to have got the hang of is any food from further east than Menton or Seltz. Chinese food remains a mystery to them, the sauce “le curry” that occasionally pops up on menus in Paris would make someone from India weep, and I have never even seen a Vietnamese restaurant in the country, despite the fact they ruled the place for like 60 years. All this meant that three weeks in France had left me very keen to get back to the happy confines of Kingsland Road and eat something with chillies in it that didn’t come from the sort of Chinese restaurant you see tourists eating in in Chinatown because they don’t know any better.
Luckily, I don’t have a wait long and come my second day back on English soil, me, Nat and Iestyn are strolling along the Dalston Promenade trying to pick which one of the restaurants we would give our valued custom to. In the end, we opted for Que Viet – purely because it was there at the point we got bored of walkings. In the end, it proved to be a perfectly valid way of making a decision, as they meal proved to be very passable indeed (even if it did end up meaning that none of us could remember its name come the next morning).
Going off piste from our usual staples for starters, we opted for soft-shell crab and steamed snails. Both were great – crispy and sweet in the first case and meaty and fragrant in the second. In fact, they were so tasty that Iestyn even declared that he didn’t need any of the Sriracha sauce you get in these restaurants and he habitually smothers everything from salt and pepper squid of croissants in. The only bum note with the starters was the one that really should be the benchmark of any self-respecting Vietnamese. The Summer Roll was rather bland; tasting of nothing except the huge quantity of coriander that they were bulked out with.
Unlike Song Que up the road, service at Que Viet was efficient and almost friendly even. They even managed to bring everything in the order you would expect, something that Song Que has never really got the hang of. Which mean that our mains actually followed on from our starters, rather than arriving at some point just moments after the first piece of beef in betal leaves is passing your lips.
Again, we were trying to be more adventurous with our mains, we we’d gone for a dish called Hanoi Pork, which arrived sizzling hot and nestled inside a large lettuce leaf. With no more details on the menu, we had no idea what they’d done to the meat. But whatever it was, it worked, turning the pork into the perfect idea of what barbecued meat should be; aromatic, smoky and pungent.
Next up was another dish with a rather strange title. In fact, the best way to describe it is probably just to copy out word for word what the menu called it, which was: “Lightly fried fillet of sea bass with dill and lemongrass (This signature dish is presented along the curvy crispy fish bone of a whole sea bass). I mean, who can ever resist the curvy crispy fish bone of a whole sea bass. We certainly couldn’t and when it arrived (alongside a side dish of wok-fried morning glory which we basically only ordered because it made us snigger) it was exactly what the menu promised. There were little pieces of perfectly fried bass, lifted from greasiness by the dill and lemongrass, surrounded by the bones and head of the fish. This too had been fried to deliciousness and we cracked bits of it and devoured them like they were bits of fishy pork crackling.
Despite – or maybe because of – its snigger-inducing name, the morning glory was also good, even if I do still struggle to tell the difference between any of the different Vietnamese greens. They are all essentially the same as far as I can tell, and none the worse for it. Again, these were fragrant with garlic and did a great job, alongside the sticky rice, of helping us scoop up the last morsels of sauce as we cleaned our plates.
So apart from the dull summer rolls, Que Viet didn’t really put a foot wrong. It looks like Song Que does have a rival when it comes to claiming the top spot on Kingsland Road.