Monday, 13 April 2009
Huong-Viet in Hackney
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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