Beef brisket pho at Cu Tu
We all know how it's like with popular restaurants - people tend to make a beeline for them and ignore everything else. Why bother other than going for the best? Otherwise, it would just be another calorie allowance squandering excercise. In fact, think of your favrourite restaurant. Can you recall what the shop just next to it does? No cheating, try it.
Whenever I feel like having a pipping hot pho (which happens quite a bit recently with the extended winter), I will head to Song Que at Kingsland Road. No question about that. It's almost impossible to get a table after 6.30pm on a weekend and I have always taken care to arrive before that. Well, the lengthening day as summer approaches does mess things up - I arrived at Song Que last weekend when it was still bright and sunny only to find a queue building outside it. A quick glance at the time showed that it was already way after 7pm.
I wasn't about to head back home so I went next door, Cu Tu Restaurant, a newish looking Vietnamese restaurant, instead. To be honest, I wasn't expect much from a Vietnamese restaurant opening up alongside Song Que. Surely it will benefit from spillover crowd (like us) and need not be even decent to survive.
Fortunately for us, Cu Tu turned out better than expected. To begin with, the place was nearly packed when we stepped in after being turned away by Song Que (I refused to wait forty-five minutes for a pho). We were quickly ushered to a table. Perhaps we were sitting right next to the kitchen, the service was prompt and pleasant throughout. They even offered to top up my Vietnamese coffee with hot water and condensed milk when I mentioned that it was too strong.
Occupying the former site of Hung Viet, Cu Tu (nickname of the current chef according to its website) strives to combine the north and south Vietnamese cuisines. A search online shows that the pho actually comes from the North while sweet dishes dominates the South. Cu Tu offers a good spread but for pho wise, it is just chicken, beef or seafood - a far cry from the permutation at Song Que. Then again, I could never tell the broth of one from another at Song Que. For all I know, they all come from the same cauldron.
First thing first, the slices in the beef brisket pho (£7.50) at Cu Tu were thicker. Because of that, they came through tougher. The broth wise, the taste of MSG came through rather obvious. It wasn't the worse I have come across though. On the flipside, the pho itself was surprisingly chewy.
I hate to compare Cu Tu to Song Que but it's hard not to when they are standing alongside. I would still try to turn up early at Song Que. That said, I wouldn't hesitate to pop over next door to Cu Tu if there is even so much as a queue at Song Que. At the both the crackers and oranges are complimentary at Cu Tu. When you have a toddler, those are lifesavers.
View Larger Map
Len Deighton: Making Food Sexy
9 hours ago