Viet Food [Soho, London]

So for many a year this was a non-descript Vietnamese place on Wardour St called the inventive name of ‘Vietnamese’. The food was cheap, quick and they had some rather tasty drunken prawns. ‘Vietnamese’ was a post few drinks standby for many a year until one day I turn up and the dreaded ‘under new management’ sign is there. The place, tatty as it was, was unchanged, but the staff had all gone and new menus were in place.

Always willing to try new things, I ordered and was quite simply blown away. This was the best Vietnamese food I had tasted outside Vietnam, better indeed than much I had eaten there. Though lacking the big piles of fresh unique herbs which just doesn’t travel; the depth of the Pho, the delicateness of the banh xeo, the lightness of the banh cuon combined with warm sunny London weather meant that for a heady few weeks this summer I was transported straight back to Hanoi.

After six weeks of joy, though the restaurant was largely empty, I head for lunch only to see the refurbishment boards have gone up and the place is closed.

Crap.

But all is not lost when I learn the new owners are staying they just wanted to re-fresh the place! I can once more eat this delicious food! A couple of months of builders pass and it is re-opened as the swanky Viet Food; all dark wood and exposed bulbs. I head there the first day and they remember me! Even better!

That’s when the crushing disappointment starts.

The food is tempered, less complex and, not that it particularly bothers me, smaller. I shrug it off to opening day kitchen.

I’ve been back three times since and it has only worsened. Unique ingredients have gone, the cooking has metamorphosed into a bland pan-asian taste and it is far far from what it was. Time Out listed its coconut calamari as the 19th best dish in London - it tastes of deep fried rubber bands. It’s not bad bad bad, it’s just endlessly disappointing.

For the owners, the restaurant is packed, they’re using cheaper ingredients and I’m sure they’re delighted with how well it’s doing.

I’m just sad.

I hate it when that sort of thing happens.

Particularly when you know the profits are rolling in.

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Although I agree that the quality has changed, I do consider it fast street food and I like Viet Food when I’m craving a spicy soup to chase away the damp, chills of London. For lunch, their pomelo salad followed up with a bowl of their spicy beef pho and their wow wow juice, usually makes me feel sated. Sometimes, if the flavor of their pho is not enough for me, I’ll ask for a bit more lime or fish sauce, which often helps to liven it up. I agree that their calamari is not at all deserving of any accolades. Their minced pork with green beans is another dish that I think is better than many of the rest on their menu.

“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold