What: I am so fond of Soho and equally as fond of Chinatown. This whole segment of London has got such a great vibe, and I really feel like I’m slap bang in the centre of the London buzz whenever I’m there. It’s also a food-well-travelled foodie haven for the “do-it-for-the-grammers”, with a whole host of eateries favouring specific cuisines.
This time, our visit to Soho took us to Viet Lounge, which can be found a couple of floors up in Viet Food. As the name suggests, it’s an oasis of all things Vietnamese, which is actually – and this is a bold statement if ever there was one – my favourite cuisine. Ah, I’m grimacing! It’s so hard to admit that it’s the food I like most, but from sampling a fair few Vietnamese hot-spots I’m plugging for it.
New? Very! Viet Lounge opened up on 7th of June, from former Hakkasan Mayfair Head Chef and the founder of the Viet group, Jeff Tan.
The Setting: Viet Food in Soho is quite the foodie labyrinth. We wandered through crowds of post-work partiers, and Alan Carr actually – random? To arrive at the rustic on the outside, homely on the in, restaurant. When we got inside, we were led up two flights of stairs past head-down menu readers, and aromas of Vietnamese food wafting at us whilst we walked, to Viet Lounge, a small space with a centre-piece bar peppered with liqueurs, mixers and cocktail embellishments. It’s an intimate setting that allows a stool perched, birds eye view of the mixologists in action.
The Look: Viet Food is such a cool place! It’s just like a house filled with Vietnamese food on all levels. Viet Lounge, at the top, features a central counter where you can pull up a pew. It’s a simple interior, with colourful detailed walls and black stools, making the bar the focal point… and there’s nothing wrong with that!
On the Menu: The menu is adorned with a whole host of Vietnamese small plates, from octopus salsa to bang bang king prawns and crispy soft-shell crab. There are 16 bar food options all together and, if summer bod goals are a thing of the past, I suggest you try them all.
What We Ate: We tried to be polite and chose only four bar dishes, (despite wanting to sample the lot). However, our waiter twisted our arm and smooth-talked the flavours to the point where we just had to delve in. So, we had the octopus salsa, Hanoi beef, sweet corn crab balls, bang bang prawns, chilli sirloin beef salsa, crispy coconut calamari, pork sowbelly, pork ribs, glazed chicken wings and crispy soft shell. Suffice to say this, coupled with cocktails, meant glazed over eyes and food-comas were rife post Viet Lounge visit. The small plates were just delicious, brimming with a dizzying amount of flavour, coupled with sublime presentation and experimentation.
We both agreed that the chilli sirloin beef salsa, grilled with fresh herb and lime juice was our favourite. The beef coupled with a chilli salsa really provides a mix of savoury and sweet, and there’s a sufficient beef to juice ratio, with ingredients packed with a punch. And, with salsa being the winning-theme of the experience, the octopus salsa also caught our taste buds off guard, grilled in a divine homemade dressing, the octopus wasn’t too chewy – just right.
One dish we absolutely championed, which I’d recommend just for its slightly eccentric taste is the Hanoi beef, which comes with homemade fish sauce and black pepper crumble, presented on half of the shank bone, where the bone marrow would typically be scraped out – definitely one for the meat lovers! The crumble adds such an interesting element as it makes the dish taste almost like a dessert-style crumble, without the sweetness. It’s one to try! The chicken wings were tasteful however the portion was a little on the small side, and there wasn’t a great amount of meat on the bone.
What We Drank: Cocktails galore! Honestly, we were bathing in them. Viet Lounge serves up a selection of Asian fusion cocktails, and they were unlike any cocktails I’d tried before. Rustling up some serious black magic behind the bar is the fabulously creative mixologist who designed the cocktails on the list, Alex Looi, formerly the Head Barman at The Dorchester Hotel. The vivacious cocktail card displayed eccentric names including the Lemongrass Bubble, the Skiddoo and the Call Me Maybe – and trust me, there’s no maybe about it, we’ll be calling back. Alex informed us that the cocktails names are taken from pop culture and other places, in order to make them memorable… but, they were so delicious, I think the taste itself does that. However, amongst the innovative hub that is London’s cocktail scene, it’s no surprise quirky naming is having to be done.
To begin with, Alex offered us a palette cleanser in the form of the Hakuna Matata from the Yellow Cocktail list, with homemade yuzu syrup, limoncello, lemon curd and champagne. It was so refreshing and perfect as a refresher, presented in a tall class with a lemon curd. Next, we hopped to the Call Me Maybe with homemade cocchi, vanilla syrup, blackberry and prosecco, a cocktail with a more Christmassy, santa is en-route vibe, as we were informed by Alex. In amongst making our way down the cocktail list, which features signature’s, yellow cocktails, non-alcoholics and more, Alex whipped us up a lilac-coloured gin-based cocktail adorned with dragon fruit. In essence, if a cocktail was taking part in a beauty pageant, this one would have the sash wrapped around it before the first round.
But, I’m saving the best to last – the Black Magic is made from vodka, coffee liqueur, pistachio syrup and homemade coconut milk, with desiccated coconut sprinkled on top. It was mind-blowingly delicious, like an espresso martini but better (yes, apparently that is possible!). It’s got such a thick and creamy, almost marshmallow like topping, which we couldn’t get enough of. Suffice to say, I think the name speaks for the spell it most certainly casts on you.
They make a range of syrups on site, and a sucker for the homemade I asked to see the bottles, anise, clove and pea, hibiscus and butterfly pea being amongst the concoctions. You can tell it’s a hub of creative flair behind that bar, with Alex at the helm. For me, gone are the days where a classic margarita will bridge the gap!
Go With: Someone who thinks Dry January is a dry spell without rain, or in other words, someone who loves a cocktail, (or seven).
Where: 34-36 Wardour St, W1D 6QT, www.vietnamfood.co.uk
Final Word: I’ll struggle to find a cocktail menu as indulged in flavour and endorsed with creative concoctions as this one, and as long as Black Magic is on the menu, I’ll be back.