Monday, 7 May 2012
Sen Viet, London
Dishes between £4 and £10
119 King's Cross Road,
London WC1X 9NH
Yes, I know, all the Vietnamese chatter is about Dalston and Deptford, but for easily accessible food that is moreish enough to make dining with others awkward ("you can have some of my beansprouts in return for just one more slice of your char-grilled beef"), Sen Viet near Kings Cross is the place to go. Its menu is fairly comprehensive, they offer a 10% student discount, and a good meal can be had for £6. What's more, it isn't Dalston-officious, where waiters swoop in with the bill the second you take a breather.
The mains are the key at Sen Viet. The summer rolls are fairly disappointing - mostly coriander, and poky-small. But the pho, the bun, the non-soupy noodle dishes, the banh mi, all of these are delicious. Anything that says it's char-grilled is particularly worth having. I'm not sure how they do it (possibly a hefty chunk of MSG), but just one taste will cause you to lick your chopsticks, your fingers, the bowl, maybe another person, in the hope of some residual sweet-and-smoky goodness. The pho stock is meaty, with the beef sliced not too thinly, but rare enough for the blood to flavour the broth. The bun contains other flavours than just heat, but will sort your sinuses out. The banh mi (Vietnamese sandwiches) come on French bread and are a good 6" long, with hefty portions of lightly pickled carrots, mandolined mooli, and your meat of choice. The bun thit nuong (rice vermicelli with pickled carrots and mooli, chilli sauce and meat) comes slathered in peanuts and crunchy bits - the gentle nudge of the chillies ties together all the components.
Sen Viet is in exactly the right place at the right time. It it popular with office workers, Vietnamese couples, students and German backpackers. Despite the MSG-provoked thirst that arrives after every meal, I keep returning because the food is worth it every time.