REVIEWING Asian cuisine while living in Europe isn’t an easy task to accomplish. Having been raised in France with local ingredients, Asian cuisine is a figurative whole new world and my background and knowledge are still quite limited.
As a baby learning how to walk, the first steps are full of hesitation without knowing in which direction you’re going and what to expect. Does the dish taste and look the same way people eat it over there? How much of the recipe is adapted to an Occidental palate? Are these the right ingredients and have they been prepared the right way
With no element of true comparison apart from some limited experiences in the past, some research on Vietnamese cuisine was definitely called before giving the Viet Grill a try.
With influences from the Chinese, French and Portuguese, Vietnamese cuisine is a unique mix of complex history, geography and local culinary heritage with distinct specialities in each of its three regions… all of which does make things ever more complex for a review.
The best option turned out to be relying on my palate and finding out if the meal would match my personal taste and expectations.
The meal started with a selection of starters:
- Cà tim nuóng – ‘Piggy Grilled Aubergine’ with scallion pork in tangy sweet and sour sauce. The aubergines were very soft and tender with a hint of added garlic. The minced pork balanced the aubergines with a crunchy texture while the sauce was strong enough to spice the dish up without overpowering it.
- Mango salad – Sun dried squid, Viet mint, smashed nut, julienned mango and sweet chilli sauce. The salad was a bit too spicy to be enjoyed at its best and, even though the fried squid added some crispiness and a light fish taste, it didn’t manage to create the desired soft/crispy contrast.
- Beef Vinh – a roll of of five-spice charcoal-grilled beef filet, served with fermented soy dipping sauce. The sauce was delicious with a strong ginger taste. The beef was tender with no chewiness, fried just right and crispy.
Moving on the main courses, the ultimate test was the Pho, a classic Vietnamese noodle soup with shredded corn-fed chicken served with fresh Viet basil and bean sprouts. The stock and the chicken were rich and full of flavour – good enough to be enjoyed by themselves – while the noodles added their comforting element to the dish.
We were then served two of their signature dishes:
- Cá kho tô – ‘Slow-cooked Mekong Catfish’ poached in caramelised fish sauce, simmered in a clay pot and finished with cracked pepper and fresh chilli. The pot was still simmering, wafting its rich scent as it was served. The caramelised sauce was a success and married well with the fish, not letting the spiciness overpower sweetness.
- Chim cà ri – ‘Viet Quail Curry’ with aubergine, crunchy okra, coconut and spicy ‘Viet An’ sauce. A very soft curry that was enjoyable but which could have been a bit spicer.
Viet Grill felt like the perfect first experience of Vietnamese cuisine. Call me French, but i think I may be slowly falling in love. Well, I now have to go try the banhmi sandwich to be sure!
58 Kingsland Road
London, E2 8DP
020 7739 6686