I loved Viet Food so much I went two nights in a row. Yep, I really did!
Viet Food opened its doors in the heart of China Town – just where it meets Soho – less than two weeks before my visits, and was packed to the rafters both evenings, with queues waiting outside to boot. Some of that will no doubt be down to its superb central location, even busier than usual thanks to the unseasonably warm weather and with the beautiful red lanterns still hanging after the recent Moon Festival. But I’m sure it must also be because word has already got out about the excellent cooking and attractive setting.
The restaurant belongs to chef proprietor Jeff Tan, who was at the helm of Hakkasan for 3 years from its launch, winning a Michelin Star for the restaurant during his tenure. His aim for Viet Food is to present a menu of high quality, reasonably priced food that celebrates Vietnam’s vibrant food culture. That concept has been translated for the interior by designer Nina Kuan, who has created a very appealing space across two high-ceilinged floors. Several of the walls are exposed brick, the huge upstairs windows are fitted with woven ropes that let in light but break up the pedestrian view outside, flooring is a mixture of oak boards and vintage tiles, ducts and pipes along the ceiling are exposed, lighting is slightly retro and there are wonderful vintage decorative objects such as hanging birdcages, huge mirrors and pretty postcards. The whole effect is very welcoming and I really like it.
My first meal in the restaurant was an invitation to review, organised by the PR; a friend and I enjoyed tasty and beautifully presented food, served with a smile in a charming setting.
The next night Pete and I needed an exciting, delicious restaurant for dinner with my cousin and his wife, visiting London from Washington DC. Happily, the food and overall dining experience were just as good the second night running.
Here’s my low down on what we had; a few dishes were ordered on both nights because they were so delicious and I knew everyone would love them. Visit two was more chicken-, pork- and beef-based dishes, as we had a few non-seafood eaters.
Lovely to discover an appealing range of soft drinks including two mixed juice options. On the left, Coconut Slap – coconut, mango and passionfruit and on the right, Wow Wow – melon, pineapple, apple and lime. Both delicious.
For both meals, we ordered quite a few dishes from the first page of the menu – labelled as ‘Incoming’, this consisted of smaller dishes, ideal as starters.
Crispy home made Vietnamese spring roll (£4.50) paired a succulent pork filling with super crunchy vermicelli exterior, fresh lettuce to wrap and a beautifully balanced sauce to dip. 3 in a portion, these were a favourite both nights.
Vietnamese pancake (£5) was far thinner than I expected. Generously filled with perfectly cooked seafood, stir fried vegetables and fresh herbs and served with a sweet chilli sauce for dipping. I loved the filling but found the thinner softer pancake less appealing than the slightly thicker crunchier type I’ve had before.
Pomelo prawn salad (£5.50) was one of my absolute favourites and another dish ordered both nights. Juicy prawns and one of my favourite citrus fruits were complemented by fresh herbs and a fantastic salad dressing – I’m guessing brown sugar, fish sauce and lime or lemon juice as a base, but it’s all about getting the balance right and this was just so good. Perhaps I shall beg Jeff Tan for his recipe, do you think that would work?
The dressing for the Grilled beef salsa with fresh herb (£5.50) was similar, though the mix of vegetables and herbs quite different. This was another winner on night 2.
The Vietnamese style grilled minced pork balls with lettuce and vermicelli (£5) were also one of the dishes everyone particularly liked – full of flavour, perfectly cooked and great with lettuce, lightly pickled vegetables and vermicelli.
The Chargrilled glazed lemongrass chicken wings (£4) were absolutely delicious, with strong flavours, tender chicken and a wonderfully charred and crisp skin. However the portion was small for the price, given the unusually tiny size of the four wings served. If the kitchen could source more generously sized chicken wings, I would give this dish a bigger thumbs up.
The next section of the menu covers ‘Greens’, from which we ordered Morning glory stir-fry with preserved shrimp paste (£5.50) the first night and Stir-fried French bean with minced beef and dried shrimp sauce (£5.50) the second night.
Both were excellent – fresh, beautifully cooked and with wonderful flavour from the preserved shrimp and dried shrimp paste. My cousin-in-law particularly loved the beans, one of her favourite dishes of the evening.
The next four dishes are listed in the ‘Chef Signature Dish’ section. Lamb chop Hanoi style (£8.80) was one of the first dishes I decided to order, lamb chops being one of my favourite foods in the world. Some meat was left on the bone – two ribs joined together, but the rest were served as boneless fillets making the dish perfect to share with those who aren’t as happy to gnaw on the bone as me! The flavour in the glaze was super punchy, and the meat very tender. These didn’t disappoint.
Tender pork belly (£7) was as promised – several generous cubes of belly pork with meltingly soft layers of fat and tender meat, served in its sweet thick braising liquid. This dish must surely be based on Chinese red-braised pork, much like the origins of Japanese Buta no Kakuni, but I found the flavours of the braise a little muted in comparison.
Vietnamese grilled chilli sirloin (£8.80) turns out to be four tight rolls of thinly sliced sirloin, simply grilled (with a little pink inside) and served with okra and a thick, tasty sauce.
Chargrilled lemongrass chicken (£6) is, unsurprisingly, somewhat similar in flavour to the lemongrass chicken wings but with less char and crispness and a lot more meat. It’s a simple but delicious dish.
Another favourite on evening two is Bun Thit Bo Nuong (£7.90)– chargrilled beef over vermicelli noodles with a cucumber and herb salad, peanuts and fish sauce. Served with a sweet chilli sauce to pour over. The generous portion makes this one of the best value dishes on the menu too.
On first glance, we thought the Home-style fried rice with king prawn and soy sauce (£4.80) a little disappointing, just a pot of rice with a few prawns thrown in – but as we started eating, we quickly realised it was simple but very delicious; a really tasty fried rice.
On my second visit we went for the Egg fried rice with beef ginger, coriander and Vietnamese pickled [sic] (£4.80), which was even better. Again, a simple dish when perfectly executed had us nodding in appreciation.
There isn’t a dessert menu, but a note on the main menu promises a Chef’s daily special – ask your waiter for more information. The Pandan sago with banana (£4) was unlike anything I’ve tried before. Pandan gave the custardy pudding a subtle flavour and pretty green colour, sago pearls added a slippery, mildly chewy texture and cubes of ripe banana added sweetness. There were no punchy flavours here; rather a satisfyingly simple ending to our meal – I liked it very much.
There is plenty, plenty more on the menu to try. We didn’t order any of the 8 pho on offer, though I spotted several fellow customers digging in with gusto. There are many more fish and seafood dishes I’m keen to sample. Another return visit is surely on the cards but the difficulty will be in sidestepping so many of the dishes above, in order to give the rest of the tempting menu a fair chance!
Do yourself a favour and make your way to Viet Food soon!
Kavey Eats dined as a guest of Viet Food on the first evening, and as regular customers on the second.