I was cognizant not to say “The BEST…in the world” since that would imply the restaurant has the BEST food, along with decor and possibly price as well. First off, let me make the disclaimer that I’ve been to Vietnam nearly a dozen times and while the food is good there, I wouldn’t say it’s “the best” since the food quality (e.g. beef) in Vietnam isn’t as good as a first world country like the US. I’ve also been to Houston and Little Saigon (Westminster, CA), where most of the Vietnamese Americans reside.
What makes a good Vietnamese restaurant
First off, the food has to be top notch. I tell my friends – most pho is either “good” or “decent.” It’s so hard to find a bowl of pho that would be night and day better than your average bowl of pho. Secondly, decor is key. Most Vietnamese restaurants are hole-in-the-wall restaurants (and frankly, the more dingy they are, the better their food usually is.) Lastly, the price can’t be outrageous. Sorry, no matter how good your bowl of pho is, if it’s $20, I’m not coming back!
With that said, my wife found “The Little Viet Kitchen” while browsing Instagram one day, and she followed them for almost a year. It was on the top of our to-do list in London. Needless to say, I was expected to be a bit disappointed since my wife had hyped them up too much. They are on the NE side of London. We took a bus right outside the Hyatt Regency Churchill and walked about ~10 minutes once we got off. This was on a Thursday around noon time.
When we got to the restaurant, there were 3 other people eating (usually not a good sign for lunch hour,) but I just assumed there weren’t a lot of Viets in London. However, when I sat down and looked around, I really appreciated the decor of the restaurant. It looked like it belonged on a beach somewhere. Instantly, this was the nicest decorated Vietnamese restaurant I’ve ever stepped foot in.
We were able to pick a table next to the window, and a waiter dropped off a menu for us. I started off with a virgin cucumber mojito, which was delicious (good start.) We then ordered the lemongrass chicken wings, the jumbo prawns, the beef wrap, and the pork vermicelli bowl. Lastly, we ordered both desserts to share.
As you can see from the second picture, the dishes are VERY NICELY DECORATED to match the restaurant’s charm. The food was VERY GOOD as well. You can tell that the chef put time into making the dishes. Just look at the inside of the eggroll. Your mom-and-pop Viet restaurant won’t have eggrolls that good nor will they have plated the dish to be that nice looking.
Can we talk to the chef?
While we were eating dessert, we asked the waiter if we could speak to the chef. There were only 2 other tables at the time, so if she was there, I didn’t think she was that busy making orders. Plus, to my wife, she’s probably up there with Jiro. The waiter then walked downstairs and a few minutes later, up came the chef. My wife gave her a hug and said she was a big fan. Then she sat down and talked to use for ~10 minutes, explaining the origins of the restaurant – of how she wasn’t too happy in her day job and quit to start up with this venture. She was very bubbly and happy, and you could tell she cared about making good food.
Later, I told her my favorite dish was bun bo hue, and she told us we had to come back for dinner and she would personally make it for us. We only had 2 dinners left in London, and I felt it was worth the trip back. During that dinner, the restaurant was fully packed. My wife thought her pho was delicious, and I had the bbh. I thought the broth in the bbh was spot-on; however, it was missing the pork blood and hoof, which sounds nasty, but that’s what makes it “authentic.” I thought it was also a bit too dark at dinner; the restaurant has a lively hipster vibe; not a romantic date night setting.
While I enjoyed my lunch more than dinner (mostly because we got to talk to the chef owner,) I wouldn’t hesitate to come back the next time in London. If you like Vietnamese food, you should also try to make a stop as well. I’m not going to say it’s “the BEST” but it’s definitely my FAVORITE Vietnamese restaurant in the world.