58 Kingsland Road,
Our evening at Viet Grill was unforgettable and I’ve never had a restaurant experience like it, not only because of the scrumptious, beautiful food.
On the tube on the way to Viet Grill I sat opposite a drunken Australian. He leant his bowler-hated head towards me and asked, concerned, if I had a Monopoly board he could borrow as he didn’t want to miss his stop. Looking forward to a quiet meal, a comfortable distance from any more inebriated strangers, I was initially disheartened to see the Wagamama-style set up of Viet Grill.
Yet somehow, the chumminess with your neighbour that Wagamama attempts (and usually fails in my experience) to foster, works in Viet Grill. Even though we were sat at an individual table rather than one of the long banqueting tables we ended up befriending the pair next to us and sharing food with them. The whole atmosphere put us at ease.
There is so much going on all around you at Viet Grill - we all kept being distracted mid-conversation by the sizzling sound of meat being cooked on table-top grills behind us. Our meal was great, and every mouthful was upstaged by the next. Yet despite this we found ourselves suffering from severe food envy when waiters presented flaming plates of curry (genuinely ablaze with blue flames), to people at nearby tables.
Viet Grill’s menu is understated and adventurous. Every place is set with an A3 paper menu which doubles as your placemat. However, rather than the never-ending lists of curry dishes, noodle dishes, rice dishes, soup dishes, etc, that are usually printed on this style of menu, Viet Grill have a smaller and more varied array.
The most unusual item we tried was the Chim cà ri, a quail curry with aubergine and okra. The menus on which I’d usually expect to see quail are those of up-market gastro-pubs or Michelin starred chef’s autumn menus. Yet despite being ordered off a paper menu-cum-placemat, this quail curry was exceptionally tasty and well presented in a little earthenware pot.
To start we had the Beef Vinh, “a wonderful rolled chunk of five spice beef fillet, charcoal grilled, served with fermented soy dipping sauce”. Indeed it was wonderful. The beef was beautifully rare and suffered no burning from the charcoal grilling. If only it wasn’t so undignified I’d have eaten the rest of the dipping sauce with a spoon… but I restrained myself. We also tried the Mango Salad, which was very like Thai papaya salad, and very spicy.
For the main, alongside the aforementioned quail, we had Cá Nướng lá Chuối, (oven baked mackerel). This was a whole mackerel that had been baked in a banana leaf, and which the waiter prepared for us at the table (finally a bit of table-top pizzazz to call our own!) It was simple, it was delicious, and it was enormous. It could have single-handedly fed the five thousand. As it was, it more than fed the two of us, and there was plenty of it left after our new friends at the next table had tried it too.
Viet Grill’s bustling atmosphere gives it the vibe of the South East Asian markets that inspire the food there. The casual Wagamama style set up might give you low expectations, but the showmanship with which the dishes are presented blow these expectations out of the water. Service was a little slow at times, but we were in no rush to leave. Besides, the place was packed and they were having to turn people away at the door.
Price-wise, it is very reasonable, although depending on how much you order (and how much you let the inevitable food envy affect you) you can easily end up ordering a lot. The never ending mackerel was a bargain at £9, and they do a special two course menu for £9.50.
If it's a romantic meal you're planning then think again, but if you want a great night that you’ll be thinking about for days then Viet Grill is fabulous.
**Written by:** Emily Boyd