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Tuesday 9 February 2010

London Restaurant Reviews - Viet Grill

Viet Grill

Vietnam has one of the most sophisticated cuisines in the world and is one of the few countries I keep returning to particularly for its food.

Closer to home, I have been heading to Kingsland Road for my fix of Vietnamese food and have become Song Que’s indisputably “Number 1 Fan” in the last few years. I had resigned myself to its scary plastic lobsters and unfriendly service. If only I could taste its magnificent pho soup - all would be forgiven.

It is all about the food, and although I do not believe Asian cooking should necessarily be “cheap”, I certainly do not want to pay a premium for the sake of trendier decor. I have thus viewed the recent smartening up of some of the restaurants on Kingsland Road with a little caution.

It was with these thoughts in mind that Dr G and I went to the newly re-opened Viet Grill on Kingsland Road. Despite getting a complimentary meal offered by its PR machine, I feared I might dislike this restaurant.

It was a Friday evening at 8pm when we arrived and the restaurant was buzzing. Despite the long queue of customers, we were soon shown to our table. First impressions were good – front-of-house staff were friendly and polite, the restaurant had been painted with a beautiful design of banana leaves and decorated with some nice touches like wooden bird cages, a beautiful aquarium and some modern but discreet lighting.

Tables were positioned very close together and we soon struck up a conversation with a delightful couple “Olivia and Moosa” who were sitting next to us. They were regulars at Viet Grill and were very positive about the food despite being a bit weary of the high density of diners the restaurant catered for at any one time.

Our starters did not take long to come; these included “Mango Salad” (sun-dried squid, Viet mint, peanuts, mango) @ £7. I was delighted by this, and loved the flavour and unusual consistency of the sun-dried squid. It was a deliciously refreshing salad with some interesting flavours and started the evening on a good note.

The “Piggy Grilled Aubergine” (spring onions, minced pork in tangy sweet and sour sauce) @ £5.50 was the next starter and, in my opinion, was one of the best dishes of the evening. I love aubergines, and the addition of spring onions and pork to a rather delicate and well-balanced sweet and sour sauce made for a very good dish.

This was followed by the “Feudal Roasted Beef” @ £9, a Saigon speciality, this tasted as good and fresh as the ones I remember having in Ho Chi Min City.

A “Mixed House Platter” @ £7 per person was served next containing Mango Salad, Imperial Spring Rolls, Fresh Soft Rolls or Goi Cuon, Beef Wrapped in Betel Leaves & Chilli Salt and Peppered Squid. I always order goi cuon and beef in betel leaves whenever eating at Vietnamese restaurants, and Viet Grill’s did not disappoint. The Fresh Rolls had just the right amount of vermicelli, herbs and prawns, and were fresh and delicious.

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 stored, it can smell and taste of the refrigerator. This was not a problem at Viet Grill. Fresh Rolls are also great to be made at home and served as canapes if you can master the softening and wrapping of rice paper sheets. I would recommend practicing it thoroughly before your guests arrive!

The first main dish was “Viet Quail Curry” (with aubergine, crunchy okra, coconut and spicy curry sauce) @ £8. This was unusually spicy for a Vietnamese dish but had some interesting flavours and textures coming through from the crunchy okra and quail meat. It was not an easy dish to share as the quail was served whole and on the bone.

The other main dish was “Slow Cooked Mekong Catfish” (poached in caramelised fish sauce, simmered in a clay pot and finished with cracked pepper and fresh chilli) @ £7.50. Viet Grill’s description which I quote above in brackets was very apt but it does not do justice to this fantastic dish – the sauce was deliciously sweet and salty and gave the dish a richness I had not yet tasted, complementing the fish perfectly. By far the best main of the evening and one I will make sure to order again.

I love having my food prejudices challenged in this way, and this time, I am pleased to admit that Viet Grill came up trumps. Most dishes on the menu were more sophisticated and authentically Vietnamese than other restaurants in the area with very friendly and helpful service.

Verdict – Delicious Vietnamese food served in beautiful surroundings by some very friendly staff. Viet Grill has certainly raised its game and I hope it will become a standard setter for other Vietnamese restaurants in the area. Highly recommended.

Viet Grill The Vietnamese Kitchen on Urbanspoon


  1. Yay! Rejina and I went there too and got almost the same menu! I really loved the aubergine and the catfish but didn't really like the quail. I think Rejina did though.

    Some of the things we ordered lacked a full flavour - you know? like a background flavour and so until I am ordering and paying for the meal - my review will come. But overall I thought it was better than average and I really enjoyed my meal.

    I really like the decor and I think its a great idea that Vietnamese Restaurateurs are finally succumbing to making their places look in setting with the 21st century.

    Really love your photographs! Uyen xxx

  2. You boys certainly put away a fair amount of food here ! It's good to see that they have catfish on the menu, although it's a common Vietnamese dish, you seldom see it on menus in blighty.

  3. @ Uyen - I agree with with what you say regarding the quail, I wasn't madly keen on it either but really enjoyed the other dishes. I remember you telling me about your visit with Rej and I thought of calling you this week to discuss it as i was writing the review. Let me know next time you go ot Viet Grill, I would love to come with you, maybe a bunch of us?!

    @ Mr Noodles - the catfish and aubergine dishes were the highlight of the evening and I would thoroughly recommend them, I think I now prefer this place to Song Que I afraid...

  4. Headed over here the moment I saw that you've written about Cay Tre's sister (if I might call it that) restaurant.

    The alter in your first picture reminds me of the many Chinese temples back home. Even the words about safety and prosperity strikes a bell. The Mekong catfish looks fabulous, will definintely get the when I drop by.

    C K

  5. I am with you there! I would travel a few kms for a good bowl of Pho!
    This place sounds great, I will remember it next time I am in london

  6. I am a big fan of Viet Grill but really it is hard to go wrong along that strip of restaurants.

  7. @ London Chow - I know, i did exactly the same when I saw you had reviewed Cay Tre, although we seemed to have had rather different experiences. I recommend the catfish, and the aubergine is also fantastic.

    @ Taste of Beirut - I write this from Hanoi, I am sitting at the hotel lobby, and cannot wait for my breakfast which will be a big bowl of pho... I can't seem to get enough of it!

    @ Gourmet Chick - I know, and I agree with you although some restaurants are definitely better than others on Kingsland Rd, Viet Grill being one of them.

  8. Ca Phe VN has launched its own Banhmi – Banh Mi SaiGon – every Saturday at the Saigon Street Cafe – Benjamin Close, Broadway Market E8 10-5

    5 pork, traditional Southern style baguette – excellent light bread with cha bong, steamed pork, cha, gammon ham, pate, pickled diakon & carrot, cucumber, spring onion, coriander, gravy, Vietnamese mayonaise & chilli.

    Ca Phe VN 07780784696

  9. Went here tonight on your recommendation! Really enjoyed it and it was first trip to Kingsland Road!! Thanks!

  10. @ Banh Mi Saigon - thanks for the info, I am pleased to hear we have another Banh Mi place in London! Can't wait to visit you again.

    @ Jill - Hi, I am so pleased you liked it, I always feel a little worried when readers take up on my recommendations! I am relieved...

  11. Mmmm - I just went yesterday for the first time. I am officially in love. My new routine on Sunday afternoons is Viet Grill and Columbia Flower Market.

  12. @ Melanie - Hi, thanks for your comment, I love Viet Grill too, and Columbia Road is one of my fav places in London specially at this time of the year. If you can, try the coffee at Start Space, it is brilliant!


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