NGONNGON, Clerkenwell, London - Disappointing Vietnamese - again

I asked recently in Facebook group for Canadians if there was anywhere in London that was close to the type/quality of Vietnamese food I was used to in Toronto. I got a bunch of recommendations. After throwing out the ones too far to travel for a simple bowl of pho :wink: I was left with a handful. Any along Kingsland Road (Hackney/Shoreditch) I ignored since I haven’t been to one that impressed me so far. But one, Ngon Ngon (is that Vietnamese for yum yum?) had three dishes I really like and are hard to find - hanoi fish, shaking beef, and buda aubergine. I ordered all three but was told ‘Too much’ so threw out the shaking beef idea and substituted salt and pepper squid. And, seeing the poster on the wall, told them I am allergic to sweet green and red peppers but bring on the chilies. So far so good.

The squid arrived and it was pretty good. Crispy not oily, with a nice nuoc cham, with some sweet grilled onions. Then it just went downhill.

The budha aubergine was not as expected. Full of huge aubergine chunks and many zucchini slices, lots more of the onion, swimming in a brown sauce and loaded with red peppers. I pointed them out and was told they 'might be tomatoes. ’ They weren’t. She offered to take the dish back but I was hungry and had waited, and the chunks were large so I picked them out. And the rice that came with it - so odd, served in a very small square dish. How were we supposed to serve it without it going all over the table? In another five or ten minutes along came our Hanoi fish. Again filled with red peppers despite our only just having complained. It was late. We again elected to pick them out, my partner saying ‘No, we don’t want to wait for another one, we just won’t come back.’ MORE onions - so many, a few pieces of dill, and woefully short on monkfish considering its £10 price tag. The fish was probably deep fried. It’s really sad when you know YOU make a better dish than one a restaurant serves. There was a plate of noodle, etc and I filled up on that. To be fair, the taste of the fish was right on. Just ruined by the frying and the presentation.

Bill £30.30. Way too much for such a disappointing meal. We paid and left and looked for something to take the fish oil taste out of our mouths. This is really sad. I’m about to give up. Truly. As my partner said, ‘How can anyone be proud to serve that?’

Finally, our tables were way too close to our neighbours’. I didn’t really need to hear the Australians ordering two of everything (not told ‘Too much’ like we heard) or the American couple with their daughter and new boyfriend (who was obviously there on his first parent date).

Think yourself lucky.

Ask the same question in the Rainy City and you’ll only get a couple of places mentioned. Neither of them any good. IMO. And my IMO is based on very limited experience. Yep, just those two. To misquote the old saying - I may not know much about Vietnames food but I know very average foof when I eat it.

By the by, nice review Jan.

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Only tangentially related, but this reminds me of the now-closed Paper Tiger in South Kensington — a £5 AYCE Chinese buffet restaurant so famous for using onion to bulk out its dishes that students from Imperial College nicknamed it the Paper Onion.

thanks, john!

No self-respecting Vietnamese should serve this kind of food. I used to know a Singaporean-Londoner who walked out of a Chinese restaurant (in London) saying it (about the Chinese food they served him).

From your descriptions and photos nothing really looks/sounds “Vietnamese”. What is “Hanoi fish”? The most well-known fish dish from Hanoi is stir-fried with turmeric and dill. Most Vietnamese restaurants around the world serve it.

They probably know people who go there don’t know a lot about Vietnamese food (until they have been) thus the blatant “inauthenticity”. They don’t even try.

I don’t remember eating Vietnamese in Toronto but did a couple of times in Montreal.

Turmeric fish it is - dill is a major part of it! mostly called Hanoi fish here, even by my Vietnamese friends. I never found it in Toronto, have never seen it in Montreal for that matter. I’ve never been to Vietnam but in London, it was my Vietnamese friends who introduced me to the place I settled on and to some of the more traditional dishes from their region, including a cooking lesson or two. The gloopy sauces and tendency to veer towards Chinese style cooking that I encounter in London is very odd to me. But it’s what there is!

Have a go at making it yourself. Super easy.

Ate it at the most known specialist restaurant in Hanoi in 2004/5. The official name of this dish is “Cha Ca La Vong”. I think the restaurant is also called this.

Green onions are wasted on me.

The fermented shrimp sauce is rather nice.

In Montreal. Mostly fennel.

At home I have made it with all kinds of firm fish but my favourite is skate wing. Also, I always use fresh turmeric. For some reason I can’t stand the powder.

With monkfish.


Yes! I do make it myself actually and (please don’t tell!) like it with panko and lightly fried, especially when it’s hard to find firm fish - London has such high prices on fish! I shall try to share a photo. I can’t do the fermented fish sauce and only that one (closed) place ever had it. I got the acquired taste for that! But it’s nice to find it in a restaurant and I can’t any more.

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