Bánh mì believers and voracious enthusiasts of Vietnamese food have been delighted by the opening of this small and pretty deli and café, operated by the team behind Cay Tre (across the road) and Viet Grill (on nearby Kingsland Road).
We were excited too, being fans of the two earlier restaurants; we keep returning to them for their good, modern interpretations of Vietnamese classics and manage to ignore the indifferent service in both branches.
Despite the culinary pedigree, Kêu is not quite the Vietnamese baguette deli of our dreams. First impressions are good though. Black counter seating and high stools are illuminated by bare lightbulbs, the floor tiling has a colonial-era feel, and the shelves are stacked high with photogenic food products: bags of locally-roasted Caravan coffee, quirky cans of Longevity condensed milk (that all-important ingredient in Vietnamese coffee), and bright red bottles of Sriracha chilli sauce.
The baguettes have been crafted for Kêu by the Sally Clarke Bakery, and are the most important element of a great bánh mì. A crackly, thin crust should give way to soft, airy crumb; it’s not a French stick, and shouldn’t feel as heavy.
On our first visit, the bread was tough and gum-scrapingly hard; it took some effort to first cut the sandwich in half, then eat it.
We had opted for a classic combo of ham terrine, spiced pork belly and chicken liver pâté – all excellent ingredients, though the accompanying pickled carrot and daikon definitely needed more zing and crunch. So close, and yet so far.
A second sandwich a week later – filled with juicy Cantonese-style roast duck – was better, the bread lighter and fillings more generous.
There are other things on the menu, if baguettes aren’t your thing. Chicken and salad was fresh, with generous lime juice and fermented fish sauce, the young vegetable stems and shredded meat tangled with sweet red onions.
A daily special of chicken curry featured perfectly cooked rice (an underrated achievement) and lightly spiced sauce; it would have been better had they opted for leg meat rather than the fibrous breast that featured.
Kêu already has queues – expect a 15-20 minute wait during busy lunchtimes. Here’s hoping the high turnover will mean more feedback, and improvements in execution.