Setting up right next door to Kingsland Road stalwart Song Que was always going to be tough. But for the time being, this newest addition to the ‘pho mile’ is doing just fine. For one, it’s got the advantage of being quieter and cosier than its loud, brash, canteen-style neighbour. And the staff are altogether more attentive – as they should be, given the small room. The owners have gone along with the ‘hundred dishes suits all’ approach favoured by all of the restaurants in this stretch of town.
An intriguing-sounding dish (in English) of ‘flaming beef’ was theatrically presented, with pale blue flames leaping up around the sides of a clay pot, but was, in the end, a lacklustre melange of beef slices with onion, red pepper and pineapple in a gloopy sauce. Better was chargrilled squid, with its refreshing texture and hints of fragrant lemongrass; it was only let down by a poor accompanying do chua (pickled carrots and radish) which tasted as if it had been sitting around for too long. Rare beef pho passed good muster, with a delicately sweet broth that perhaps needed a bit more body.
As sizzling platters of aromatic cha ca la vong (a northern Vietnamese dish where fish is grilled with plenty of fragrant turmeric and dill) and sunny yellow half-moons of banh xeo (a thin, stuffed crepe) swept past our table numerous times, it became clear that we had missed out on some real hits. The long menu only highlights the fact that the kitchen might have bitten off more than it can chew.