Anthony Bourdain, the New York chef turned best-selling author, is moving to Vietnam because he loves Vietnamese food so much.
Fortunately, Londoners without his resources can find excellent Vietnamese nosh in Hackney. The section of Kingsland Road just past Shoreditch is a veritable gauntlet of Vietnamese restaurants, but the Loong Kee Cafe is a standout.
Like most Vietnamese restaurants, the decor is simple, although it has had to up its game with the plethora of competition. The formica tops have been replaced by a more inviting matt surface and the walls have been repainted. But you do not come here for the interior design.
Besides the excellent pho, a hearty soup of flat rice noodles, brisket and thin red slices of steak that cook in the broth before your very eyes, Loong Kee makes a Vietnamese treat rarely found in London.
A northern dish, Banh cuon consists of very fine minced pork and black mushroom, wrapped in a white thin, translucent layer made of rice flour. The delicate creatures are sprinkled with dried onions, which have been fried so that you get a wonderful contrast between the velvety smoothness of the rice wrapping and the crunchiness of the onions.
Cha lua, a thick sort of mortadella and fish sauce complete the dish. If you don't meat, there is the prawn version, not unlike the long white steamed dumplings with prawn in the middle that is a staple of dim sum. The difference is that the Vietnamese rice wrapping is much more delicate.
Loong Kee does banh cuon to perfection and is the only restaurant I know in the area that does this dish. That's why you'll see plenty of Vietnamese customers tucking into banh cuon for Sunday lunch. It's also fun to see non-Vietnamese trying to eat banh cuon with chopsticks. They are very slippery and seem to take on a life of their own.
There is an added bonus to Loong Kee. If you fancy some culture afterwards, pop into the Geffrye museum literally next door, a quirky museum with a large garden, which traces the history of English living rooms from 1600.
134 Kingsland Road, London, E2 8DY; Tel: 020 7729 8344
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