Kingsland Road in Shoreditch has become something of a Mecca for Vietnamese food lovers. In fact there’s very little else to eat at that end of town, save for an excellent Spanish gaff on Columbia Road and a few just-about-passable burger-ish places in Hoxton Square. The Breakfast Club is worth a trip for the vibe, if not the food. Miso should be avoided at all costs. But really, if you’re planning on forking out some of your hard-earned shekels on food in that part of Shoreditch – and you want to avoid all manner of Nathan Barleys and P-Dos – Vietnamese is the way to go.
There are plenty of options, but somehow I’ve always ended up in the Viet Grill. I’d never been blown away, despite some glowing reviews, but they very sweetly asked me along last week and it would have been churlish to say no. So off I went on Friday night via a couple of looseners on the roof at Boundary (definitely a well-advised diversion) and had a truly stellar evening.
The room is at the swankier end of the Vietresto spectrum. Some of the cafes further up towards Dalston look more like school canteens and good for them, but this place is softly lit and intimate, with little fishies tumbling in tanks and walls like Mowgli’s bedroom. There’s a good buzz without it being deafening, and there’s a downstairs bit that I’d never known about.
We first ate an unordered but well-received plate of ‘Piggy Grilled Aubergine’, a nifty dish of soft aubergines with little flecks of minced pork. Oh but wait, I’ve forgotten to mention the great revelation of the evening. I flimsily suggested we order a bottle of wine, at which point my friend Nic looked at me like a pansy and insisted we order hot sake. I’d had sake once before in the blazing sun at a music festival, and did not like it at all. But this stuff was incredible. Sod pairing food and wine – when it comes to this sort of food, hot sake goes with everything. Everything.
I digress. To start we had summer rolls, a lobster and crab salad, and a mango salad. Summer rolls were like most summer rolls – a little rubbery, a little strong on mint, a little so-what otherwise. You either like them or you don’t. I don’t. But the salads. Ye. Gods. Mango all pepped up with smashed nuts, shards of crunchy salt squid, chilli and mint, and then a great stack of soft shellfish that was so light and fresh that you could have stuffed it into a pillowcase. What a start.
A main of wok fried fresh scallops, king prawns and calamari lacked the oomph that had made all the dishes so far (all but the summer rolls) spot-on. Some decently cooked pieces of fish didn’t quite get the support needed from the midfield that you look for in Southeast Asian food. The ‘Chicken Royale’ more than made up for it though – a spatchcocked poussin that had spent the past few hours sitting cosily amongst cinnamon and herbage before being slapped on a grill and served dressed in soy sauce. Proper hands-on eating.
We finished with a whopping plate of delicious coconut ice cream, one last snifter of sake (it even just about went with the ice cream – remarkable), said our goodbyes and tottered out of this diamond in the rough.
The meal was comped, but I reckon we’d have got out of there at about £25 a head. You can certainly eat for much less though. Many thanks to all at VG for being so kind.
58 Kingsland Road
020 7739 6686