Monday, 28 March 2011

Viet Grill - Don't Believe The Hype

Have you ever wondered what bitter disappointment tastes like? Well if you want to find out then visit Viet Grill. As is now my style, I'm keeping this review short and sweet. Besides, there are only so many ways in which one can describe bland mediocrity.

Slow cooked Mekong catfish (cá kho tọ)
The starters of wicked crispy frog (ếch rang sả ớt) and steamed 'pho' paper rolls (phở cuốn) were plain. Things didn't get any better with the mains of slow cooked Mekong catfish (cá kho tọ) and stewed Saigon pork belly (thịt kho nước dừa). The former was too sweet, whilst the latter had little of the flavour that I was expecting from the caramelised coconut juice.

Beef pho
Just when you thought things couldn't get any worse, the noodles arrived. The beef pho was insipid, with the accompaniments not on the side, but annoyingly already in the bowl. The meal then reached a nadir in the form of the spring bowl (bún nem), which had the nước chấm sauce, again annoyingly, pre-mixed in with clumpy rice vermicelli (bún). The spring rolls and betel leafy la lot meat rolls that came with this dish were also pretty nondescript. In fact, the only dish that was any cop was the water spinach (rau muống) tossed with garlic.

Dinner for three came to £68 including a round of drinks and 12.5% service. Any positives? The dining room is stylish and buzzy, although the tightly packed tables and inattentive flustered service spoil the ambience.

This was my first visit to Viet Grill and I can scarcely believe that it's the same restaurant that so many London foodies adore. Have standards dropped? Possibly, as one of my dining companions recalls the food being better on previous occasions.

I won't be returning here anytime soon; although I won't be missed, as this restaurant was rammed, even on a Tuesday night. In terms of eating on the 'Pho mile', I'm sticking with my old favourite, Song Que.

Viet Grill The Vietnamese Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Viet Grill, 58 Kingsland Road, London, E2 8DP (Tel: 020-7739-6686)
Nearest stations: Old Street, Hoxton, Shoreditch High Street


  1. Oh no! Sorry to hear you had such a bad experience there. I quite enjoyed it when I ate there but admittedly I think the last time was over a year ago.

  2. Interesting. I went there for the first time recently for a quick lunch and had some lovely food. But, and maybe this is crucial, I did not have any noodles. The lotus root salad sticks in my mind as pretty damn tasty.

    All that said, i would definitely go to Song Que for Pho (or any other type of noodle soup) on the Pho mile. For most other Vietnamese food I would tend to aim more for Mare St as a first choice as I have had decent stuff at Green Papaya and Tre Viet (although this latter one can be inconsistent, excellent one day, average the next).

  3. I also didn't like Viet Gril, had the most awful squid there and the other dishes were merely mediocre. With you on Song Que

  4. GChick - I did wonder if I ordered badly or whether I had unreasonable expectations. But when I thought about it, 6 out of 7 dishes weren't up to scratch and it wasn't unreasonable to expect the noodle dishes to be prepared correctly (and with flavour!). It's also weird how I had a bad time here and a good time at 101 Thai, whilst you experienced the exact opposite!

    Gworm - was it busy when you went? Perhaps a quieter lunch service meant that they could deliver better quality grub. Good hint on Mare St (a nascent Pho Mile II, maybe?) - perhaps I should check out places there rather than the more heralded Kingsland Rd joints.

    Ute - I'm glad in a way that I'm not the only one to have had a bad experience at Viet Grill (although I'm not glad that you, like me, had a bad meal). I wonder if we were unlucky, but the thing is, there's plenty of other Viet places to try before I test out that theory.

  5. The problem with Song Que is that it is soooo bloody temperamental though.

    My one meal at Viet Grill did make me hate it but wander quite what all the fuss which followed was about.

    On GW's tip, a friend used to live up by Victoria Park and take me to smaller places up there, they were easily the equivalent foodwise, cheaper pricewise but without the redesign.

    PS did you know that Viet Grill was probably the first ever Pho place on the Pho mile and were it all started... Same owners now after the redesign as before

  6. PS that should be "my one meal at Viet Grill DIDN'T make me..."

  7. just by coincidence, I was at Viet Grill just a week ago, mostly bc I didn't feel like walking further north on Kingsland road. Our meal was fine - not horrible, not great. Relatively pricey for Kingsland Road but I figure there's a premium for the decor.

    I like Song Que only for the pho, but my sense is that the different restaurants along Kingsland Road each have a particular strong dish that outshines everything else on the menu. Just last weekend, I tried the bun cuon at Loong Kee and thought it was amazing, but their banh xeo was very disappointing.

    So in the end, you probably need to hop from resto to resto on Kingsland Road to construct the perfect Vietnamese meal. : ) I'm hoping a good friend of mine (who lives nearby and eats on Kingsland Road all the time) will do a guest blog post for me on this topic.

  8. Oh no! Maybe an off night? I was there about a month ago, and still really liked it.

  9. Tom - I might plan some trips in the deep east to go on the hunt for quality Vietnamese. And yes, I totally know what you mean about Song Que!

    A-in-L - you're right about certain restos specialising in certain dishes in London. After all you don't get the all-round joints in Vietnam that you see in London. Caffs and stalls will specialise in certain dishes be it pho, bun, or banh xeo whilst restaurants will specialise in a region or a type of food e.g. seafood.

    I guess the trick is to find out who does what well and home in on those places. You need to get your friend to do a guest post asap!

    Melanie - could well be an off night, but I sincerely hope that they don't as a matter of habit, pre-mix of herbs in the pho and nuoc cham in the bun. Both are crimes against noodles.