Monday 13 April 2009

Huong-Viet in Hackney

Huong Viet

We had one of our most fun nights out of the year at Huong-Viet. All of our foodie friends from the North of London have raved about this Vietnamese canteen. As have Charles Campion, Time Out and Nigel Slater. It has a sense of authenticity and quirkiness that appeals in spades. Much of this is derived from the fact that the site for this restaurant used to be public laundry and baths and then became a community centre for Vietnamese refugees. It then evolved into a canteen serving authentic, inexpensive Vietnamese food to whoever was either close enough or brave enough to visit.

So when the excuse arose we pounced. With the aid of a compass, some thermals and an appropriately named Hackney Carriage we waded in on a mission to try the entire menu. With the aid of Edwin's impressive grasp of the Vietnamese language and Jack's sheer appetite we were soon swamped by so many dishes that we had to annex a second table!

Summer rolls were fresh, crunchy, soft, cool and fragrant all at the same time. I reckon I could eat these all day. For me they are on a par with the Paddyfield in Balham, if not better.

Prawn summer roll

A Vietnamese omelette was unnecessary, given the amount of food we'd ordered, but delicious nonetheless. Stuffed with crunchy and gungy stuff it was a text book example of contrasting textures. Doused in firey chilli sauce and it really came alive.

Vietnamese omeltte

The highlight to the first act of our meal was a plate of chargrilled squid which achieved the ultimate goal of being succulent and rammed with flavour at the same time.

Char grilled squid

Other starters such as fish cakes and beef wrapped in leaves were so good they disappeared before I could photograph them! Much to my irritation and everyone else's mirth. The beef transported me back to a lunch time cafe in Hong Kong which I became addicted to several summers ago.

It was as if the main courses didn't want to be outdone by the starters. My hot and spicy lamb was one of the favourite things I have eaten this year. It lived up to its name by delivering the sort of sticky, tangy heat that makes you lick your lips for days afterwards. I had to fight Jack and Anna off with my chopsticks.

hot and spicy lamb

Cowie's whole steamed sea bass was good enough to prevent me from being offered any. Always a good sign. It's just a shame they couldn't find a larger plate. But I guess that is part of the charm. incidentally, this appears to be one of Nigel Slater's favourite dishes.

Steamed sea bass

Edwin's impressive ordering skills resulted in a scene that wouldn't have been out of place in an ad for HSBC! A waiter appeared holding a scorching hot plate at arm's length and deposited it, still spitting in front of Edwin. It was a wonderful piece of theatre. And cooking too. Given the amount of burning hot oil that splattered onto the table it was essentially a healthy option.

Sizzling beef in black bean

Other dishes included a fragrant chicken curry with a plenty of lemon grass and a saucy pork curry. All washed down with plenty of Vietnamese beer and a lot of banter. If you can judge a meal by how dirty the table cloth gets, then we had a whale of a time. By the end we were trying to interpret the oily splodges around Edwin's plate in a way that would have had psychologists raising a lot of eyebrows!

We loved the informal atmosphere, direct service, delicious food and cheap bill. Some writers have suggested that there has been a lull in quality in recent times. But that wasn't on show when we visited. We loved it and are already planning a return trip. We just wish that we either lived closer, or that they would consider opening in Brixton or Balham.

12-14 Englefield Road
020 7249 0877
N1 4LS

Huong Viet on Urbanspoon


kerstin said...

Yes this is a fab and cheap restaurant. I love the barbequed king fish.

Browners said...

@MsMarmitelover - we had a great time. I'm definitely having the barbecued kind fish next time I go. Love BBQ and love king fish. Must be good mustn't it!

Le laquet said...

Ok, so you mention Edwin's impressive ordering abilities - does this mean the menu is incomprehensible without basic Vietnamese or was it just all the better because of this? Food looks amazing!

Browners said...

@Le laquet - Sorry I was just teasing Edwin because he attempted to order in Vietnamese. It was disastrous. Each dish is written in English first on the menu. So it isn't really a problem at all.

Food was really good. Can't wait to go back.

An American in London said...

You can count me among those who have been disappointed after recent visits to Huong Viet. It used to be one of my favorites, so I feel I gave it more than a few chances to recover. But I haven't been back since last September. It does sound like you had a great meal, though, so maybe it's time to give it another go.

Browners said...

@An American in London - I guess we are coming along to Huong Viet quite late in the day given that it has been around for a while. I'm sorry that some people haven't enjoyed it. But we had a really great time. It was more about the feeling of freedom and escapism perhaps than anything else.

That said the food was good and well cooked. No complaints there.

It's hard for me to judge what it used to be like. Maybe it used to be a temple of utter foodie heaven.

Helen Yuet Ling Pang said...

Those summer rolls look incredible. I agree that poor sea bass could have done with a larger plate, it's hanging off the edges! Lovely photos as always...

Browners said...

@Helen - thanks for your kind words. Although the fish is falling off the plate, it is completely in line with how this restaurant lives and breathes. It's the little imperfections that make it fun.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin