Image courtesy of shivering goat
The hours of business: noon-3.30pm, dinner served 5.30-11pm Mon-Sat.
The bottom-line: Huong Viet is a somewhat ramshackle canteen attached to the An Viet Vietnamese community centre. The tables are rammed in tight, leaving barely enough room to get to your seat and ensuring that should you grow bored of your own conversation, you can make do with listening to the ones taking place either side of you. However, faced with a plethora of Vietnamese food on Kingsland road, Huong Viet continues to pull us back time and again with its heady mix of sublime food, bustling atmosphere and baffling staff.
Having said this, Huong Viet is not for everyone, in fact on most visits you’ll see people lodging complaints about the service; it is chaotic when they are busy (ie most of the time), but that’s part of its charm, so long as you have a sense of humour and don’t expect all your dishes to arrive at once.
The local market: Three minutes walk from the Kingsland Road, but not within easy striking distance of any tube or rail, the clientele is a mix of locals and, one suspects, those who have been told that seeking out Huong Viet is worth going the extra mile in to Dalston’s back streets.
The bread, chips and gravy: There is a fairly simple rule for newcomers to adopt when ordering here: go for things that have squares around them on the menu – the recommended items. We’ve eaten almost everything on the menu and they are not wrong.
On this visit two of us kicked off with the char-grilled squid and prawn summer rolls. It is hard to overstate how good the squid is. When it arrives we share a knowing look and then the conversation ceases until the squid has been hoovered up, although we do have a bit of back and forth over who gets the last piece. As for the summer rolls, superlatives come thick and fast. They are deeply good, so fresh that they make you feel cleaner for eating them. Delicious.
Having held back from ordering another five starters, we move on to a very favourite treats – the steamed sea bass with ginger. Every single time this is perfect. Try some crispy sea weed on the side. The waiter might recoil in disgust but give it a go. Emboldened, we ordered prawn noodles – something that we had neither had before, and wasn’t recommended (by the squares on the menu). It turned out to be an inspired choice. Fragrant, light noodles topped, phad thia style, with peanuts and flavoured with a perfect balance of chilli and ginger. In the interest of experimentation for the sake of this review, we opted for another unknown quantity, the tamarind chicken, which proved to be the only disappointment of the night; like a bad filler track on an otherwise excellent LP, this is a dish to skip.
Other dishes to recommend based on previous visits include: Vietnamese pancake, lamb with galangal, chicken in a clay pot and the vegetarian curry.
A capital choice to: Indulge your craving for the best Vietnamese in town at knock down prices. A whole sea bass for under £9? That’s just silly.
The damage: around £60, including service. Corkage is £1.50 a head, but we opted for the excellent Hue Beer on this visit.
By David Buglar
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