London’s Vietnamese restaurants have been coming into their own in recent years. And it’s no wonder: the food is full of bright, fresh flavours, with an abundance of fragrant herbs and minimal use of oil and dairy. The dishes are naturally healthy and meant for sharing, which chimes with the way we eat today.
Meals are centred on rice, vegetables and fruits with key flavourings include soy sauce, fermented fish sauce, shrimp paste, lemongrass, ginger, chilli, lime, and several different varieties of basil, mint and coriander. There are Chinese and French influences from Vietnam’s colonial past.
Perhaps London was late to the Vietnamese food party, compared to other countries around the world. Simple, homely family-run joints in Shoreditch were the first to draw attention around 15-20 years ago. Recently, bánh mì sandwich places have been springing up everywhere, and Vietnamese coffee has become a firm favourite. Former supperclub hosts and enthusiastic young home cooks have started opening delis and eateries with menus that recreate their family’s old recipes. The future of the capital’s Vietnamese restaurants has never looked more promising.
Sông Quê Café
One of London’s most revered Vietnamese, this long-established, award-winning restaurant was instrumental in putting both Shoreditch and the cuisine on the capital’s culinary map.
The buzzy, family-run venue’s décor has seen better days, but it’s still the place to go to for fragrant pho soup, which is simmered for many hours, as it should be. Try the other popular dishes, too, such as prawn paste in sugar cane, fried green mussels in tamarind sauce, freshwater eel with lemongrass and chilli, and fried aubergines with tofu.
Sông Quê Café, 134 Kingsland Road, Shoreditch E2 8DY
Mien Tay Battersea
Specialising in the cooking of south-west Vietnam, this well-established chain has a different family member running each of its branches.
Southern Vietnamese food is centred on lush tropical vegetables, fruits, seafood and exotic meats; and a greater use of garlic, shallots and herbs. Dishes are sweeter and richer in coconut milk than in other regions. Some of the popular items here include seafood hotpot (which must be booked in advance), chargrilled quail with honey, garlic and spices, and stir-fried goat with galangal, curry powder and coconut cream.
The menu is huge and, unlike many other Vietnamese restaurants, there’s a wide choice for vegetarians. Dishes containing nuts and wheat are also clearly marked.
Mien Tay Battersea, 180 Lavender Hill, SW11 5TQ (plus two branches in Shoreditch and one in Fulham).
Australian-Vietnamese Damon Bui started out as a host of popular Table For 10 supperclubs, before opening a permanent venue near King’s Cross’s Granary Square. A firm favourite with locals, the stylish restaurant, decorated in pale earthy hues, specialises in Vietnamese barbecued food, and cocktails. The drinks are an essential feature, not just an afterthought.
Beautifully presented classic and contemporary dishes on the short menu may include pork and prawn summer rolls, slow-cooked beef pho, barbecue lemongrass pork noodle salad, barbecued lamb chops, and the highly popular prawn toasts – don’t miss these if they’re on the menu. Staff are welcoming, friendly and cheerful.
CôBa, 244 York Way, N7 9AG
Cây Tre Soho
The ingredients are carefully sourced from the British Isles at this buzzy venue, but the flavours are pure Vietnamese. There’s a great selection of crispy, steamed, grilled, slow-cooked and other varieties of dishes showcasing an impressive array of cooking techniques.
Specialities include rolled rice crêpes with ground pork or chicken and mushrooms, and duck confit soup in dark broth with kumquat peel, nutmeg, mustard greens and Saigon egg noodles. Don’t miss the excellent selection of regional pho soups, which take many hours to prepare.
Cây Tre Soho, 42-43 Dean Street, W1D 4PZ. Another branch is in Hoxton.
Owned by Vietnamese Kitchen, the company behind Cây Tre and other Vietnamese restaurants in central and east London, this acclaimed Shoreditch venue is an ideal place to try the country’s street food.
Choose from dishes such as monkfish fillet with turmeric rice noodles, Vietnamese herbs and sesame crackers; or, if you’re dining with friends, a unique multi-course feast based on meat, game or seafood (available with 48 hours notice).
Viet Grill, 58 Kingsland Road, Shoreditch, E2 8DP.
A relative newcomer on the Vietnamese dining out scene, ex-Hakkasan chef Jeff Tan’s trendy restaurant specialises in traditional street food with a contemporary feel. Exciting and colourful dishes include grilled betel leaf-wrapped beef, Hanoi-style two way-cooked lamb chops, and vermicelli noodles with vegetables and wild mushrooms. There are a number of innovative items here, and prices are very reasonable for central London.
Viet Food, 34-36 Wardour Street, Soho, W1D 6QT.
Lavishly decorated with traditional carvings, bamboo screens, wall paintings, colonial-style ceiling fans, and framed pictures from 1940s Saigon, this is one of the smartest and most spacious Vietnamese restaurants in London.
There’s a large menu of classic and imaginative dishes, and Chinese and French influences are especially apparent here. Try deep-fried battered frog’s legs topped with fried garlic and salted French butter; baked beef fillet in coco juice and wine vinegar served in a clay pot; and grilled marinated duck with five spices, honey and coconut juice, topped with white beans. If you’re feeling even more adventurous, order the steamboat – a simmering pot of bubbling stock with raw ingredients to gently cook into it.
Saigon Saigon, 313-317 King Street, Hammersmith, W6 9NH.
Most of the capital’s Vietnamese restaurants boast about their street food credentials – but this small, down-to-earth, family-run venue focuses firmly on home cooking. The name is pronounced ‘non’, and it aptly means ‘delicious’.
The relatively short menu nonetheless offers a good selection of bánh mì sandwiches, summer rolls, vermicelli bowls, salads, and pho and bun noodle soups. Try the superb vegetarian pho; or choose grilled pork cutlet with crab and pork terrine, shredded pork, pickled daikon, scallion oil and nuoc mam fish sauce. Drinks include iced and drip Vietnamese coffee; plus bubble teas flavoured with tropical fruits.
Ngon, 195 Chiswick High Road, W4 2DR with another branch in Hammersmith.
The House Of Ho
The original House Of Ho started life as Asian celebrity chef Bobby Chinn’s upscale restaurant in Soho. It has now moved to Fitzrovia, and is helmed by renowned chef Ian Pengelley. It’s set over four floors of an elegant townhouse, and its several rooms are decorated in pretty colonial style.
There are lots of attractive little dishes to share on its contemporary menu, including 'Vietnamese scotch eggs', Hanoi spiced volcano rolls, and wild mushroom and vermicelli bowl. An attractive lounge bar serves slick cocktails such as pho mary (vodka with wasabi paste, ‘pho-flavoured sauce’ and lemon juice).
The House Of Ho, 1 Percy Street, Fitzrovia, W1T 1DB.
Handily located near Theatreland, this lovely diner is all dark woods, brown leathers, exposed brick walls, gilt-edged mirrors and crystal chandeliers. Old recipes, including street food dishes, have been given a contemporary makeover. The menu is centred on simple Hanoi home cooking, more intricate, colourful and spicy royal Hué cuisine, and a unique combination of French and Southeast Asian flavours that hark back to the colonial era.
Try barbecued marinated lamb with lemongrass, prawn paste sauce, chillies and galangal; grilled sea bass marinated in lemongrass, galangal and garlic wrapped in banana leaves; or ox cheek pho with noodles, lemongrass and distinctively-flavoured saw leaf herb.
Com Viet, 2-4 Garrick Street, Covent Garden, WC2E 9BH.