Thursday, 1 April 2010

Sông Qûe – Good Morning Vietnam …..

In my many many years of travelling around the world. One country I had the chance to goto but never did, mainly because of other peoples experiences there. I.e. they were negative. Was Vietnam.
I had apprehensions about going there, but Lina planned it, so we had to go. I’m so glad we did, as it really is now one of my most favourite countries. Not only for the food, but also the people, the landscape and generally everything. We had such a great time, even in Hanoi, which was my most and least favourite city in Vietnam. It tugged at all my senses and emotions. To that I was glad and sad to leave at the same time. After I left I wanted to return, but alas no. Laos was a calling and we answered.
Three things I had a healthy obsession about in Vietnam. One was the coffee. Thick, dark and strong, drinking it hot in the north, and cold in the south. Two was chicken with lemongrass and chilli. I had it as often as I could in literally every city we went to. The third and by no means least was Phô. In Hanoi we were having this delicious soup twice a day. Once in the morning for breakfast as in those cold mornings of the northern capital, Phô certainly warmed you up.
It’s a filling, deeply satisfying noodle soup with either meat or chicken, depending on what you order. I was partial to both, so used to split it quite evenly. It was so much fun just to wander the city and pick a small hole in the wall and have some Phô. None disappointed, and they all rejuvenated our weary bodies and mind.
So of course living in Islington, we are only a stones through from Kingsland Road. Which contains a good quantity of Vietnamese restaurants. Heaven on our doorstep.
So after buying the latest copy of Time Out’s Eating and Drinking Guide, I browsed the Vietnamese section, and with a list of recommended eateries on that road. We were off.
Sông Qûe really reminds me of a place we ate at in Quy Nhon. A strange town in central Vietnam that so wanted to be on the tourist trail, but really didn’t have anything to offer apart from its oddness. Its major appeal for us was that it wasn’t on the tourist trail. It retained a lot of its Vietnameseness. If that is a word. But you get the meaning.
Sông Qûe was jammed packed with people. The majority were Vietnamese, which is always a good sign of people longing for their homeland. They always head to a place that reminds them of it.
After a short wait some tables become free and sat down we did. Ordered a couple of Hue beers and browsed the menu.
I was going to have a big bowl of Phô, but I noticed chicken with lemongrass and chilli on the menu. Well I could not resist. Lina had some Phô with raw beef. An order of prawn salad rolls was asked for also. Well it would be criminal not to.
The salad rolls were just as we remembered them, well nearly. They lacked some herbs that are purely Vietnamese that just lift a salad roll from one level to another. But they were pretty good. Jammed with herbs, salad leaves and prawns. The peanut sauce was thick and a little spicy. Good combo.
Lina’s Phô had a good stock base. As without one, it’s well just a noodle soup. I once asked in Italy once, what was in the risotto today, and the waitress replied, “The stock is good today”. Nuff said. Without a good base, soups, stews and sauces are pants. It never had that intense beefy flavour you come to expect from simmering beef bones all day and night to produce a stock that, well is to die for. A bit like in El Califa in Mexico City, where they sell the juices of the meat as a soup. Delish.
Lina understandably was coy to share her Phô with me, and only let me have a little. I had to wait a few more minutes for my dish.
To say the end result was not worth the wait, was, well true. It wasn’t. It had a breath of lemongrass and no chilli. The chicken was moist enough and had been cooked in soy sauce, but it lacked any depth at all. The inclusion of nearly raw red and green pepper pieces on top was like a slap in the face. I was disappointed.
But I do want to return, as I love Phô, and it was pretty damn good. But I think I will give the majority of the other things on the menu a wide berth, as they looked and mine tasted like bad Chinese food.
As there are many more Vietnamese restaurants down Kingsland Road, I think it may be a while before we venture back into Sông Qûe if at all.

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