Last Wednesday, a friend from work organised a dinner at Song Que – I was really looking forward to it as I’d not been to Pho Mile in a long time and Song Que is meant to be one of the best along the stretch. Even on a Wednesday night, the place was packed and there was a constant queue (albeit a short one) at the door. Though a table was booked for us as 7:30pm, we didn’t make it there until 8pm but luckily, a large round table freed up just in time for us seven.
The menu is long and takes quite a bit of perusing. When a dish is ordered, the waiter whips out his ballpoint pen and scribbles your order number on the paper tablecloth near you, Wagamama style. Watch out for those waiters – they love a good joke or two. I asked one for some chili sauce for my pho and he shook his head – no; I was so puzzled as I’d seen bottles of the stuff on other tables. He walked away as I sat there in confusion but then promptly came back with all the available condiments and with a big grin on his face, happy that he’d played a good joke on me. Uh huh.
Anyway, I ordered a Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk to drink, something I would later regret as I lay in bed that night, my mind racing. I wasn’t to know of those effects, of course, as I sipped on this sweet, icy treat.
To start, we ordered a number of appetisers to share between us. I don’t remember their Vietnamese names (I didn’t take a photo of the menu) so bear with me as I call these dishes by their generic sounding English names!
First up, beef wrapped in betel leaves. These juicy little parcels came with a small pile of rice vermicelli, lots of mint and Vietnamese basil, and plenty of pickled carrots and daikon in a green pepper cup. Delicious.
The grilled squid in tofu sauce was tender and tasty though I wasn’t actually sure what the tofu sauce was.
The meaty spring rolls were good specimens of the Vietnamese variety but nothing seemed to suggest anything particularly special about these ones.
Two large summer rolls came to each order, each one plump with three prawns. The freshness of these went down a treat.
For the vegetarian in our group, we ordered the green papaya salad minus the pork and prawns. Even without these meaty delights, the salad was gorgeous! It took a lot of self-discipline not to gobble up the whole plateful and thus leave none for our vegetarian.
The fried soft shell crabs were excellent; the hacked up crabs were lightly battered and fried and served with a scattering of garlic, spring onions and sliced chilies.
I thought the weakest and most disappointing of our appetisers was the prawn paste on sugar cane. The prawn paste was fine enough but the sugar cane itself was quite terrible to chew on after the paste was chewed off. The prawn paste had left an almost unpalatable saltiness to the cane. Ah well.
For mains, it was every man for himself. A couple at our table opted for the single dish with egg fried rice option but I have no idea how Vietnamese these dishes were as they were sitting on the opposite side of the table. A couple others went with the bun (rice vermicelli) with various porky things on top – I think there was grilled pork, shredded pork and perhaps more of the spring rolls.
For the final three of us, we each had pho with rare steak, well done flank, tendon, tripe and beef balls. Now this pho just blows the pho at Pho out of the water (how many phos in one sentence?). The broth was deeply beefy, the noodles not at all mushy, the herbs generous and fresh, the beef all delicious. The portion too was huge and probably would have been enough for me. We dipped our heads towards the bowls and slurped away happily.
As we were full to bursting, we skipped dessert, the only offerings being ice cream and a che, a Vietnamese soupy dessert. It was for the best, we reckoned, as we rolled out of the restaurant after splitting the bill – £16 each. (You can easily get away with spending less than a tenner if you stick to just the pho or bun and a drink.) So far, Song Que is the best Vietnamese restaurant I’ve been to in London – what are your suggestions for worthy competitors?
134 Kingsland Road
London E2 8DY