There are certain cuisines that London does well, and others with which it struggles. In the latter category comes Malaysian, Mexican and Vietnamese food. Each of these has a serious culinary culture, yet for some reason London seems incapable of producing even one really competent example of the breed. Melbourne has some decent Vietnamese restaurants, and Paris certainly has, so I always live in hope that London will produce one (and no, the late unlamented Bonjour Vietnam was not it, and nor is Cay Tre). Hence it was with a certain amount of trepidation when I headed to Da Nang, opened in June 2012 and has been gaining some fans for its “authentic” Vietnamese food.
The narrow dining room is fairly smart, with wooden floor and hard banquettes that could really do with some cushions; tables are quite tightly packed. The menu is lengthy, with thirty appetisers (£3.95 - £6.95) and pages of main dishes (£6.50 - £9.95). There is a wine list starting at £12.95, with wines like Tim Knappstein Riesling at £28.95 for a wine that retails at around £11. At least listing the vintages would be nice, especially when there are a few more serious wines available. I am not going to plonk down a large sum of money when I cannot even see the vintage, any more than someone would buy a car without knowing how old it was: you don’t see too many adverts for used cars that just say “BMW”, for example.
A Vietnamese salad was actually served warm, and featured squid, prawns and mussels in amongst the herb leaves, crushed peanuts, lemongrass and spices. What surprised me about this was that the squid was not the usual chewy segment, but tender and carefully cooked squid; similarly a few prawns were nicely cooked, and the spicy dressing worked well (easily 13/20). Char grilled prawns were served in their shells, marinated with salt and black pepper and offered with a garnish of lemon. These too were good, tender and with none of the iodine tang that happens with cheap farmed prawns (13/20).
The standard was not quite kept up in the main courses. “Golden brown sea bass” was fried and presented upright, with a Vietnamese chill sauce. The fish was properly cooked and fairly easy to fillet, the sauce spicy but not overpowering (12/20). I was less convinced by a Vietnamese take on the classic Indonesian/Malaysian dish beef rendang. Rather than served dry the traditional way, here the marinated beef was served with a coconut curry in a clay pot. Nothing wrong with that in principle, but the beef was not quite as meltingly tender as in a traditional rendang, and the coconut sauce was oddly bland, so it was more a brown gravy than a curry sauce (10/20). Noodles were better, in this case udon-style noodles having decent texture, stir-fried with assorted vegetables, onion and chilli (11/20).
The bill came to £36 a head with beer and water to drink. Service was friendly and helpful. Overall, while this is still not the Vietnamese restaurant of my dreams, there was an unusual amount of care shown tonight, such as with the tender squid and good vegetables, and although it was not entirely consistent I would happily come back and explore the menu further.
Further reviews: 15th Jul 2013