Thursday, 18 March 2010

Song Que review - a bustling Vietnamese eatery along London's Kingsland Road


Address: 134 Kingsland Road, London E2 8DY
Tel: 020 7613 3222
Nearest Tube station: Old Street

Ratings (out of 5 *)
Price: below £10 pp
Service charge: N/A
Taste: **
Service: **
Ambience: **
Suitable for: a quick chow with pals
Kingsland Road is probably the centre of Vietnamese cuisine in central London and numerous Vietnamese eateries and restaurants can be found along a stretch of less than a kilometre long north of Old Street's intersection with Kingsland Road.

We were first introduced to Kingsland Road by K when he brought us to Tay Do almost three years back. Though I was able to recall that the pho wasn't too bad, I didn't take much notice of it as it was before the days of London Chow. This time round, I offered to return the favour by bringing K to Cay Tre instead. Despite it being a weekday evening, Cay Tre, which is located a distance away from Kingsland Road is fast becoming popular and a reservation is strictly necessary. For some bizarre reason, the staff at Cay Tre claimed that they didn't receive my reservation (I was even asked to leave down my phone number during the reservation as a reference) and we were asked to wait for at least 40min.
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Famished, we decided to trek to Song Que, which was wildly purported to be the best Vietnamese restaurant along Kingsland Road - in other words, probably the best in central London. We had high hopes for it while we trekked for a good half an hour along Old Street and then Kingsland Road, past all the rest of Vietnamese restaurants before reaching Song Que. For a moment, I actually thought that we were lost as Song Que was quite a far bit of distance away from the nearest Vietnamese restaurant.

The initial impression was promising - although its ambience wasn't exactly what I expect of a proper restaurant, it was packed and a queue was starting to build up. Because we didn't make a reservation, we were urshered to one side and the people who actually did call were quickly led to their allocated tables. Even so, we didn't have wait for long and were shown to our table soon enough.

To say that the whole place was bustling would be an understatement. At times, one would probably have to speak at the top of his voice just to hear himself. Dishes were literally flying out through an indiscreet door, which I could only assume led to the kitchen. An army of staff were running all over the place but the place was clearly understaffed and we had to wait for quite some time just to have the menu presented.

Even after that, we had to asked for the rice crackers that were given as a complimentary to all customers. "Didn't you have the crackers?" the staff questioned when we asked for them. He muttered something under his breath and went get us some.

We were pleasantly surprised once we did eventually get the menu. Compared to Cay Tre, Song Que's menu was way more extensive - there were more than twentry varieties of pho alone. Other than having a pho each, we ordered (Vietnamese) spring rolls, stewed fish in pot and prawns with ginger and spring onion.

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My well done flank, tendon and tripe pho (£6.30) was easily one of the best pho that I had ever eaten. The tripe and tendon wasn't overdone and retained some of its rubbery texture. The soup base was thick and flavourful but not overpowering. The pho itself was smooth and firm at the same time; Cay Tre's pho, which a bit broader and flatter, paled in comparison.

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We requested to have three spring rolls instead of the usual two spring roll per portion (there were three of us) and the staff was pretty obliging in that. The spring rolls, by themselves, were rather substantial with fresh ingredients and would make a nice snack if you were not too hungry.

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The stewed (caramilized) fish in pot (£6.80) was a sea bream, we were told. I thought the fish slices were fresh, tender and tasted fantastic when it was hot. K and Wife think otherwise. K in particular thought that the one served at Tay Do was much better.

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Prawns with ginger and spring onions (£6.80) was nothing to shout about I would say. Perhaps we should have ordered another dish but that looked (and tasted) like something being tossed in a wok and stir fried halfheartedly.

We left Song Que just over an hour later unimpressed, particularly when a staff took Wife's specs, which was lying on the table, away with a cheeky smile when he was clearing our table. It could be that we went there with too high an expectation. Then again, the queue outside Song Que was steadily building up when we were about to leave. Clearly, Song Que had its loyal patrons.

Read my review for my subsequent visit to Song Que. This time round I ordered the right dish.

Song Que on Urbanspoon

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7 comments:

The Grubworm said...

I think you hit upon what Song Que does best there - it's all about the Pho. Other places to the rest equally as well, if not better, but if you get it on a good day, their Pho is one of the better renditions I've tasted outside Vietnam.

If you ever find yourself further east Tre Viet and Green Papaya on Mare Street are pretty good - and slightly less busy - alternatives.

Mr Noodles said...

I can't believe you went for the prawns! You should avoid these Chinese-style dishes in Vietnamese places as they invariably disappoint.

Wild Boar said...

Yeah stick to their Viet dishes rather than amalgated cuisines. You missed out on the beef wrapped in betel nut leaves as well.

C K said...

@The Grubworm,
I've not got the chance to venture along Mare Street as yet. Thanks for the heads up.

Song Que's pho was definitely in a league of its own.

@Mr. Noodles,
I didn't realised that Vietnamese don't do prawns. Or did I just ordered the wrong dish?

You recommended the bun earlier but I thought I should go for the pho first. :)

@Wild Boar,
... now that you mentioned it... Hmm, should have stuck to the beef dishes.

Mr Noodles said...

To clarify, prawn w/ginger & spring onion is a bit of an escapee from an Anglo-Chinese menu as sadly are many of the dishes at Song Que. For example you'll also see sesame prawn toast, crispy aromatic duck, and Singapore noodles on the menu. These are to be avoided in favour of their 'real' Vietnamese dishes.

Tom said...

Undenyably the service is crap, the room tacky, the waits appalling, the atmosphere ghetto but I have not eaten better Vietnamese in a restaurant in London (on a good night and they def have bad nights)

I would say it may be worth trying again, have more starters, on a quiet night (Monday at 5:30). Especially as it is the best pho you have had!

Tom

Anonymous said...

I can't believe that a lot of people say that Song Que does the best pho. Went there about 2 weeks ago and ordered the standard rare beef pho. Now, i have eaten at practically all the vietnamse restaurants on kingsland road as well as Cay Tre and i have to say that Song Que had the worst pho of all. When it came, i started stiring it and it turned out that most of noodles were stuck together and the rare beef was dry and overcooked. It was obvious that it's been sitting out in the open all day along with the noodles. You could tell by the way the beef was darker and crispier round the edges. The base was pretty bland and tasteless and the pho only came with one little stick of basil and the standard beansprouts. Really dissapointing. Much prefered the pho at Mien Tay or Que Viet

Max