Sunday, 27 March 2011

My favourite Vietnamese

The restaurant is Viet Hoa. It was the first to appear on this stretch of Kingsland Road over a decade ago, with its signature red and white checked tablecloths, but you wouldn't recognise it now. It was a busy Friday evening and we hadn't booked: there was no room upstairs but it was no problem. We were accommodated in the funky basement complete with sunken astroturfed floor and legless chairs, which the restaurant rather ambitiously describe as 'garden tatami'. The bar itself is – not obviously – made entirely out of recycled materials including dried moss and park benches. Credit cards are accepted, although the prices are so reasonable that a meal here shouldn't break anyone's bank.

The staff here couldn't be sweeter. When I told our waitress I wanted to go to Vietnam, she wrote down a couple of places on the back of a receipt and then gave me her email address, urging me to get in touch for more information.

I got very excited because my cousins from Scotland let me order for all of us. I ordered a lot (see below) and it was all delicious. We really couldn't fault it. There was a small mistake and they didn't bring one of the starters and one of the main courses: chicken satay and drunken chicken with cloud ear mushrooms. But even that turned out to be a blessing in disguise as we probably wouldn't have made it up the stairs if we had eaten any more.

Summer rolls,
Beef in betel nut
Crispy duck pancakes
Banh xeo - crispy pancake of prawns and vegetables

Stir fried prawns with bok choi
Vegetable noodles
Chicken with chilli & lemon grass
Beef with chilli & black bean sauce
Jasmine rice

'Beautiful' declared my husband's cousin, who was still talking about the prawn and bok choi dish two days later.

The parting shot on Viet Hoa's slick website says:
'We hope you enjoy the new East London. It's getting smarter.' Quite.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

The Best Sunday Roast in London

'That's never a penalty,' declares my husband, glued to the football match on the screen a few feet away from our table. I have no idea how he can take his eyes off the most perfect Sunday roast I have ever seen – and one which costs less than a fiver. I feel great sympathy towards the straggle of shakey-looking, bright young things who clearly haven't been to bed. They have just been turned away because they haven't booked and I hear them mumbling something about trying to get a pizza delivered instead.
Having Sunday lunch at the Pride of Spitalfields (3 Heneage Street E1 5LJ), for me, is like travelling back into a soothing '70s time warp. There is no choice; you get chicken, pork or beef depending on what the kitchen has decided on. It is served almost instantly (although I have to say my mother never managed to do this; I remember, age six, trying to keep my eyes open at 10pm on a Sunday school night with the beef apparently still not cooked) and you don't get much conversation. It is also free - well, practically, where else can you get a proper two course Sunday lunch for six quid?
This is classic British grub laid out on a red and white wipe down check tablecloth, dished up by a motherly platinum blonde in sheepskin slippers. Utterly unpretentious, the Pride of Spitalfields has to offer the best Sunday roast in London. You get four vegetables, two kinds of potatoes: roast and mashed, a jug of gravy, AND yorkshire pudding whether it is roast beef or not. Once you have got through that lot, a cheerful voice will ask: 'are you ready for your dessert?' This could be anything from Walls Viennetta to school dinner style pudding and custard. We were a bit disappointed to be presented with tinned fruit salad and custard, but let's not forget we are talking £6 for two courses.
The 'Pride' is a wonderful time warp, where the ageing pub cat rubs up against the old boys at the bar, who happily rub shoulders with some of the bleary eyed fashionistas lolling on the sofas. Paying £13 for a Sunday roast consisting of some dried out slab of meat, greasy potatoes and one veg by a skinny, miserable north (or west) Londoner just sends me into a fury. Well, it would do, but I don't do it anymore. If you go to 'The Pride', do book, but don't expect the staff to be snotty; they are not, it is just that the 'dining room' only seats about 12 people, so they just like to know.