Well bugger me, I didn’t know if you turn left out of Liverpool Street Station and *keep* walking, past Pizza East as the road turns into Shoreditch High Street, it then flows into the renowned Kingsland Road, also known as the Vietnamese quarter. It never ceases to amaze me how close everywhere is in the East. Unless you happen to be my workmates, who live in the West. To them, places like Shoreditch and Hoxton are a million miles away, and to travel between them, you’d need some kind of mechanical horse-drawn cart.
Rather than Mien Tay, where I once tried to mix the finest food this side of Ho Chi Minh with Guinness, tonight’s taste of Vietnam comes from the oft-mentioned Sông Quê, which, you’ll be pleased to know doesn’t mean “what song?” in pidgin Spanish. What it does mean is “attractively-packed no-frills noodle cafe” in Mike-speak. I could find the actual translation on Google but can’t be arsed (surely you can do that yourselves?)
To be honest, I find that when it comes to Vietnamese in the East End, when you’ve been to one place you’ve been to them all. Sông Quê is well rehearsed in swiftly expedited food, trotting across all tastes and whims such as phở noodle soup, the staples of duck, pork, beef and chicken, service with a smile (I remember that), a spartan room and a cost-price evening of great food and drink and, as it turned out, copious conversation about fisting, groping and dildos.
Apart from the discourse, everything else was in good taste. You are forced into ordering what I would call ‘authentic’ Vietnamese here – which is a good thing – but be prepared for the occasional dish to be just a little bit too ‘not for me’, such as the starter of fried prawn paste and sugar cane, which promised so much but was surprisingly bland. The deep fried squid was ruthless in its portion size, as was the fried beef, but there’s no denying these guys know what’s what/ their way round a Viet café kitchen.
We all went for noodle soup mains of varying description. Mine, number 146, was rare beef and (not rare) chicken, and true to form here, was abundant and deep in flavour, riding on lemongrass and ginger. We all lucked out to be honest; cellophane noodles were deemed by one of us to have the texture of a certain bodily fluid but hey, it tasted good. If you’re the kind of literal meathead that likes to pick through the noodles and find all the beef and chicken, then in a way, you’re missing out – the soup was stonking; spicy, gingery and every bit as good as the heaps of meat you’ll find in the bowl. Everything seemed to be be served with copious amours of lemongrass and veg and there were a myriad of chilli sauces on the table, to float your boat. Drinks in canned form and Vietnamese beers with ‘let’s mean business’ names such as ‘333’. £eighty later and well educated in sex toys or using hands as sex toys, we left.
Does Sông Quê sit head and shoulders above the other Vietnamese places rounds here? Not so sure, though it is worth going ‘off the beaten’ track to discover for yourself. It goes back to that ‘feel factor’, which I was talking about when gushing about Ember Yard the other night. In a way, that was the only thing the tapas restaurant lacked. Walk into Sông Quê and you’re hit with the buzz, the smells and all things that I (admittedly having never been to Vietnam) would deem to be authentic to this cuisine. The quality of food (and in my case, conversation) is a bonus.
Starters £five to £nine, mains around £seven to £ten.
songque.co.uk | 0207 613 3222 | 134 Kingsland Road, London, E2 8DY