I seem to be spending more and more time out in the East of London. Maybe Mark was right, the East is the center of all that is cool? Well, we know that I'm not just about cool (that made me chuckle a little) but it certainly has it's fair share of gastronomic landmarks. Although previous visits have seen me eat at markets, devour fantastic Bangladeshi grilled meat, play table football and drink the best coffee in London, I had yet to hit up Kingsland Road, also known as the Viet mile.
Last Friday saw me out East yet again when I went to watch some of the UK 2010 Barista of the year heats (absolutely fascinating by the way), and was the perfect opportunity to try out one of the more renowned restaurants on the Kingsland road, Song Que. After a rather lengthy wait, we were ushered to our table and with an iced Vietnamese coffee in tow, I started to make my way through the encyclopedic menu (it has over 150 listed items!). I got to about item 60 before my eyes started to get a little tired so I left it up to my dining companion to choose our dishes.
First up was Bo La Lot (beef wrapped in betel leaves). This dish requires some construction. First I was informed that I needed to take a single leaf of lettuce, line with noodles, herbs and pickled root veg (carrots and turnip, I think). The beef is then dipped in fish sauce and wrapped in the filled leaf. The ensuing sensory onslaught is quite something. Sweet and sour from the pickled vegetables, aromatic smells and deeply savoury beef. The lettuce adds a clean finish to refresh your palate, ready for the next helping.
Man cannot live on beef alone, so the crispy chilli squid was ordered alongside. I have long lauded the baby chilli and garlic squid at Mandarin Kitchen, my favourite squid in London, and unfortunately this didn't quite match up. That having said, they were far from bad. Although slightly on the salty side and a tad overcooked, still highly enjoyable and worth ordering.
All these dishes were merely the precursor to the main event. I was assured that this was the best Pho (pronounced "fur", thanks to @hollowlegs for that lesson) on the Kingsland road. Unfortunately, the resulting dish was rather disappointing. The essence of the pho comes from the intensely aromatic broth, steeped with flavour. Although the slices of beef and chicken, as well as the rice noodles were perfectly adequate, the broth was one dimensional and had none of the punch required. This probably had a lot to do with the time we were dining (9pm on a Friday night), but still disappointing nonetheless.
I was assured that this was not par for the course and we proceeded to discuss what the best tactic would be to sample the best broth. I think we settled for around 2pm where the broth would have had time to develop its deeply complex flavours, whilst not having run out and risked being topped up with standard stock. Deeply scientific analysis.
Although my visit was far from outstanding, the queues at the door tell me a different story. By the time we left (around 10pm) there were still lengthy queues, and considering that there are at least 10 other Vietnamese restaurants in the area, they must be doing something right. I certainly wouldn't rule out another visit, just maybe closer to 2pm next time.
Song Que - 134 Kingsland Road London E2 8DY