Ever been greeted by a karaoke belting waiter before? It’s actually not as unpleasant as it sounds, especially if it’s followed by the meal I ate at Chung Viet on Depford High Street recently.
We had originally set out for a Pho fix at Cafe East in Surrey Quays, but with the restaurant closed for summer (mark you diary kids – they reopen August 24th), we found ourselves in the south-east, our minds set on eating Vietnamese and nowhere to go. Chung Viet has been receiving an amazing amount of praise on the Chowhound London boards lately and remembering Chung Viet was close by in Depford, we jumped on a bus and 10 minutes later, we found ourselves in a mini Vietnamese community that unbeknown to us turned out to be the home to some pretty decent Vietnamese food.
It was around 9pm on a Tuesday night when E and I payed the restaurant a visit. When we arrived, we actually thought that the restaurant had closed for the night, as the place was empty, a lady was wiping down the tables and another man was belting out Vietnamese karaoke. As we were about to walk away, the lady frantically beckoned us inside, shusshed her (then slightly embarrassed) husband and invited us to sit down.
The menu is fairly standard with a bit of pho (beef soup), bun (rice vermicelli), goi (salads), com (rice) and meat dishes. Wanting to try a few of the dishes we picked an assortment to share.
I have a feeling that Chung Viet probably didn’t receive the custom of many non-Vietnamese customers prior to their recent Chowhound induced fame as the lovely man who took my order felt very embarrassed that he wasnt able to communicate in english as we ordered. I don’t speak Vietnamese, but for the purpose of eating, I know how to pronounce the names of some Vietnamese dishes which made things a little easier.
Following chowhound recommendations, a salad of Chicken Feet with Lotus root (£6) quickly arrived to our table. I wasn’t really quite sure what to expect to be honest as I haven’t ever eaten chicken feet prepared in a Vietnamese fashion. What we received was a generous serving of pickled and deboned white chicken feet, with julienne lotus root, perilla leaf, Thai basil, mint, crushed peanuts and chilli all dressed with a nuoc cham sauce. Of course I don’t think chicken feet is to everyone’s taste, but to me this was perfectly sweet, slightly chilli, refreshing and a textually pleasing dish – a great way to start the meal.
Northern-style Vietnamese spring rolls (£5 cha nem ran) arrived soon after and were crisp, garlicy, meaty rice-paper style spring rolls. The accompanying iceberg and perilla leaf salad was fresh and nuoc cham plentiful.
Our Pho Dac Biet (£7 special beef noodles) arrived at the table steaming hot with the usual herb, chilli and bean sprout accompaniments. The broth had an amazing amount of depth, and was rich without being too meaty. It may well have been one of the best broths I have ever had in London putting it right up there with Cafe East. Quite a big call.
Our last dish, Banh Cuon Thit (£6 steamed rice noodles served with pork) took a little time to come out which makes me certain that it was prepared fresh. The rice noodles were paper-thin, delicate and silky not to mention there were mountains of it. It was served with a fresh herb and iceberg salad and the nuoc cham sauce that accompanied the dish had a few small meatballs inside.
I am not really sure how busy Chung Viet usually is as during our visit, we were the only customers for quite a while. Relatives of the restaurant (?) stopped by for a late meal towards the end of our meal and another two men walked in as we were finishing. The family did have an amazing smelling bun thit nuong (Grilled sliced pork on rice vermicelli salad) delivered to their table which I will definitely try on my next visit.
Despite a language barrier, the family who own this place are really quite lovely and helpful which is a nice change from the horrible service you come to expect at many of the Vietnamese kitchens along Kingsland Rd. Little things such as the offer to top up dipping sauces and herbs were generous touches and would probably sway me to make the effort to go back. Our 4 dishes and tea came to less than £30 including drinks and service.
A real find with a really fine pho.