Sunday, 11 September 2011

Restaurant Review: Que Viet

A bit of spice and a bit of shaking at this Vietnamese on Kingsland Road. This review was originally written for Blue Tomato magazine.

If you’re after Vietnamese food, it’s no secret that Kingsland Road is the place to head. But without careful planning, the numerous offerings can turn into a mental hurricane of confusion. Sorting your Viet This from your Viet That is a little like looking for a needle in a noodle-stack. Or some such misappropriated metaphor.

We reckon we’ve checked out a fair few of these joints in our time, but what with their proximity to the heart of Shoreditch’s nightlife, we can’t promise to remember exactly which ones we’ve nocturnally frequented.

A lunchtime trip to Que Viet made a refreshing change, then. A bottle of Vietnamese Hue beer sets the mood as we peruse the characteristically vast menu. We plump for a greedy selection of starters that includes some adventurous skewered minced snails alongside more populist summer rolls and soft shell crab.

We’re impressed with the crunchily fresh summer roll fillings and a sweet chilli sauce which isn’t too cloying and sugary; whilst the soft shell crabs are suitably meaty and not overly greasy. The snails gain flavour from the lemongrass stalks they’re skewered on, but we’re left thinking the exact same thing that crossed our minds when we ordered them: of all the meats in the world, why would you want to mince snails. Why?

Another dish of beef served with rice noodles, peanuts, chilli and a fish sauce dressing is a self-assembly version of Pad Thai. It comes to us recommended by our waiter, and is an instant highlight. Who said it was wrong to play with your food?

The humorously named Shaking Beef which is a staple of most Vietnamese restaurants was more of a quivering let-down. Served over greens with onions and tomatoes, it looked the part but was lacking in the flavour stakes. And the word steak is indeed ironic, as to our tastes the beef could have been virtually any low quality meat. Whatever it was, it lacked the gumption to stand up to the gloopy gravy whose cornfloured consistency provided the namesake shaking.

A fish dish of basa in a lightly spiced sauce fared better, but suffered at the hands of the same over-zealous thickener. Moist flesh and fresh coriander were the saving grace of a mediocre dish that we imagine tastes damn fine after a few beers down Hoxton Square.

We certainly wouldn’t be adverse to a return outing at Que Viet, with the friendly service and slick (for Kingsland Road) surroundings adding to the experience. Whether it’s a highlight of London’s Vietnamese stretch, we’re not so sure. You may just have to dive into that noodle-stack and do some comparative research of your own.

Que Viet, 102 Kingsland Road, E2 8DP
Nearest Station: Shoreditch High Street

>> originally published in Blue Tomato magazine

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