I feel like I am a little fixated on Vietnamese food lately. I can’t quite pinpoint exactly why, but I think it has something to do with the fact that the summer gods have been generous this year and I feel like I should be eating accordingly. To me light, fresh, vibrant food screams Vietnamese.
A stroll down Regent’s canal on a glorious sunday took us to Kingsland Rd. We were actually tossing up whether to grab a lunch at Tow Path or to continue to Kingsland Rd but with the sun shining, tow path was a little crazy (they even had an extra barge with tables set up) so we continued a little further along to the Vietnamese junction.
A lot of people often ask me which Kingsland Rd restaurant I like to frequent, and to be honest there isn’t one that is good enough to recommend. I eat at Song Que for Bun Bo Hue (Spicy Beef noodles) or Pho (Beef noodles); Tay Do Cafe for Bun Thit Nuong (Grilled pork on rice vermicelli noodles) or Cay Tre or Viet Grill for a general meal in comfortable surroundings.
Today we tried Loong Kee and we walked out thinking it wasn’t half bad.
Situated at the upper end of the Kingsland Rd strip, we have walked past Loong Kee on numerous occasions noting that they specialise in Banh Cuon – a steamed rice noodle dish and speciality of north Vietnam, and after our flatmate, came home last weekend raving about a dinner there, it jumped a little higher on our ‘need to visit’ radar.
It was our first visit, but I am pretty sure that the place has been recently renovated (was the exterior previously green?) as the restaurant is quite modern and comfortable, with new furniture and uniformed staff. They also seem to have expanded into the premises next door where they are able to accommodate large groups – especially handy as the restaurant is one of few BYO joints on the strip.
The menu is a little confusing as the english descriptions are not very descriptive and strangely the speciality Banh Cuon (steamed rolled rice noodles) are listed towards the back of the menu. They actually offer a few varieties of Banh Cuon – either with pork, prawn or plain or a combination of these – and either as a small or large portion. Wanting to try a few things on the menu, Sam and I ordered a large Banh Cuon Thit (with pork), salt and pepper squid and a Banh Xeo (Vietnamese Pancake), all to share.
Banh Cuon Thit (£5.80) arrived first, accompanied by a plate of julienne lettuce and an oversized bowl of nuoc mam fish sauce. This put a smile on Sam’s face immediately as he is always disappointed how little sauce restaurants provide. The rolled crepe like noodles were silky, translucent, paper-thin and scattered with pork mince and mushrooms. Scattered with fried shallots on top it was an incredibly generous portion and one of the better (if not best) renditions I have eaten in London. If only the dish were served with bean sprouts, Vietnamese herbs and pork sausage if would have been perfect.
Muc Rang Muoi or Salt and Pepper Squid (£5) arrived next and it was surprisingly pretty decent. This dish was prepared a little more Chinese than Vietnamese in style with the additional of onion, shallots and garlic. The squid was tender and batter crisp but not thick. The onions and shallots took on a strong garlic chilli flavour which I enjoyed, but it would have been nice with the additional of a bit more pepper just to kick it up a notch.
Our last dish Banh Xeo (£7), is a Vietnamese savory rice flour pancake traditionally filled with pork, prawn and bean sprouts. The pancake skin is made from a rice flour, coconut milk and turmeric for colour and is served alongside nuoc mam fish dipping sauce.
Loong Kee’s was ok. The pancake was served alongside mint, lettuce, pickled carrots and radish and cucumber and filling of prawns, bean sprouts and onions. Like all places in London, I wished for more Vietnamese herbs besides standard mint. I also had a bit of an issue with this dish mainly because they had chosen to stir fry a whole ton of onions and place it inside the crisp pancake essentially rendering the base soggy.
I wished we could have tried more things, but the based on the bahn cuon steamed noodles alone, I will be back to try more. Banh cuon is northern Vietnamese and I have been told they serve another northern speciality Cha Ca turmeric grilled fish which is also apparently delicious. Other than these two dishes they don’t seem to offer too many other northern dishes (correct me if I am wrong as I am no expert!) so I don’t think we can classify the restaurant as a northern specialist, which is a shame as London needs one.
The fact that the restaurant is BYO, is alone a guarantee that the restaurant is a sure winner with the Hackney crowd and I will go back with a bigger group, just so I can try out a few more dishes.
Definitely the place to go for banh cuon in London. £23 for 2 with soft drinks and service.