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Friday 11 September 2009

London Restaurant Reviews – Sông Quê Café

Sông Quê Café

I have been coming to Kingsland Road for my fix of Vietnamese food for the last 15 years, and have witnessed a few places coming and then quickly vanishing from sight. Sông Quê Café is one of the old timers, and I am pleased that it has managed to hang on as one of the most popular restaurants on the Kingsland strip.

Time Out has been incredibly complimentary of Sông Quê Café over the years, and in its most recent Time Out Eating & Drinking Guide 2009, it awarded 5 stars to this Café, its maximum number.

Having spent a couple of weeks in Vietnam sampling the most scrumptious food made me realise how good Sông Quê Café is. A lot of the dishes I tried in Vietnam were not as successful as the ones I had eaten at Sông Quê, while I can still count the few that were actually better.

The décor isn’t great (the huge plastic lobsters on their walls are actually scary!), and service can be rather grumpy at times. The food, however, more than makes up for these.

My latest visit was no exception. As a group of four, we could share a variety of dishes from the menu. I find that their pho (beef soup with rice noodles), starters, salads and “buns” (vermicelli noodles with meats and salad) are by far their best dishes.

We started with Fresh Rice Paper Rolls with Prawns and Herbs, Prawn Paste with Sugar Cane, Grilled Beef Wrapped in Betel Leaf, and Spicy Soft Shell Crab. I love the fresh rolls from Sông Quê, they are fresh and herby with just the right amount of rice vermicelli. This is one of the simplest dishes on any decent Vietnamese menu, and can be prepared well in advance. If prepared too early and not well stored, it can smell and taste of the refridgerator. This is not a problem I have experienced in Sông Quê. Fresh rolls are also great to be made at home and served as canapés if you can master the softening and wrapping of rice paper sheets. I would recommend practice well before your guests are due to arrive!

I had never ordered the Prawn Paste with Sugar Cane before, but it was highly recommended by the lovely Clare, full time foodie and Senior Dietitian at a prominent London Hospital, who was dining with us that evening. The prawn paste was very flavoursome with hints of garlic and coriander root, a real discovery which I will be ordering again.

The Grilled Beef Wrapped in Betel Leaf was also good. The charred and soft betel leaves were beautifully wrapped around the spiced minced beef, the flavours combining well together.

Sông Quê’s Soft Shell Crab is a real winner. I have tried to recreate this dish numerous times at home with varying degrees of success, but could never get anywhere near Sông Quê’s. Despite being deep fried, it is deliciously light; the batter is always incredibly thin and the chilli and garlic seasoning does not overwhelm the delicate flavour of the crab. However, at nearly £7, I find their Soft Shell Crab portion slightly ungenerous.

For mains, we had Traditional Crispy Pancake with Prawn and Chicken served with Salad and Herbs, Green Papaya Salad with Prawn and Pork, Stir Fried Beef with Lemongrass Bun and Spring Roll & Grilled Pork Bun.

The pancake was again very good with a coconut flavour to its crispy batter that makes me order it over and over again. This seems to be one of Vietnam’s staple street food dishes and I had it many times whilst there.

I was slightly disappointed with my Green Papaya Salad this time round. The combination of flavours (sour, sweet, salty) was as good as ever but the thinly sliced pork did not taste as fresh as it could have done.

Both “buns” were very good, but particularly the one with stir fried beef and lemon grass. I normally order the grilled pork & spring roll bun but was pleasantly surprised to taste the wok charred beef in lemongrass. The flavours were excellent and the lemongrass gave a real punch to the dish.

Another dish that we did not manage to order this time but that I would highly recommend is the Crispy Sea Bream in Fish Sauce with Mango. As the name suggests, the entire fish is deep fried making it crispy, the shredded green mango is also a great and exotic addition. It is delicious!

Verdict – Authentic and delicious Vietnamese food in the heart of London and as good as some of the best restaurants in Vietnam. Very affordable, our meal cost us £13 per person. Highly recommended.

Song Que on Urbanspoon


  1. Hi Luiz, I see you're a newbie blogger too ! Song Que is a great place and I'll be sure to try some of the dishes you had the next time I visit.

  2. Hi Mr Noodles, thank you for the kind words, I like your postings and am mad about Asian cuisine too, Japanese being my favourite.


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