Xich Lo

103 St John Street, London, England, EC1M 4AS, United Kingdom

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Sadly this capable Vietnamese restaurant folded in mind 2007, so the review below is of historical interest only.  It was 12/20 level when it closed.

The name means rickshaw in Vietnamese. The dining room is split level: as you enter there is a bar and a few tables, and then there are stairs both down and up. Downstairs is an open kitchen and table, upstairs a balcony area with further tables, which is where we ate. The décor is modern, with one long whitewashed wall, and one wall painted orange. A few pictures of Vietnam are hung on the walls, as well as an old wooden screen and a wrought-iron rickshaw design on one wall. A small real rickshaw is parked outside the restaurant. The menu goes beyond traditional Vietnamese cooking, and contains some western influences, which is more sensible than a lot of “fusion” ideas given the French influence there. 

On my most recent visit the chef/owner had the night off and the staff were clearly in "and the mice will play" mode.  Despite a reservation (for which we were early) initially it looked like they were going to turn us away as we looked like being the last customers, enabling them to head off home early. No amuse-bouche tonight: the dishes appeared in record time. The cooking was still fine but it was annoying to be so blatantly hustled out when we had a resevration and were on time. Still, the meal this evening was 12/20 only.

Below are notes from my first visit in November 2006, which was better.

Tonight there was even an amuse-bouche: a spoon with a piece of beef marinated in a chill sauce topped with a little prawn cracker: the beef was tenderised and the chilli flavour in control (13/20). A vegetarian Vietnamese spring roll starter had three rolls and a red tomato and chilli dipping sauce: the rolls had crisp batter and avoided greasiness, but the mixed vegetarian filling was rather bland (11/20). Better were four prawns on a skewer, the prawns marinated with coriander and spices, cooked until tender and served in their shells with julienned mango suffused with a spicy salad dressing. This was prettily presented on a white plate criss-crossed with mild red and green chilli coulis (13/20). 

The meal hit its peak with the main courses. Oven baked “whole fish” turned out to be sea bass, no less, cooked with mixed herbs, garlic and shredded oriental pickled vegetables and a mild chilli sauce. The fish was cooked perfectly, the vegetables were tender and the chilli sauce added spice but did not overwhelm the sea bass (14/20). I had duck breast, nine pieces of duck cooked pink and served with a few oyster mushrooms and a thick, dark sauce made from the cooking juices but flavoured with chilli and ginger. The duck was genuinely classy – I have had much worse in supposedly serious restaurants, and again the spices were carefully controlled so as to enhance but not dominate the duck (15/20). Rice, both plain and “tasty” (made with chicken stock) had good texture, as did a simple dish of Vietnamese greens stir-fried with garlic (13/20).

Waiting staff are Vietnamese and were friendly and efficient. The strange thing is that the head chef is Norwegian – he has a Vietnamese wife. There was a quite good wine list e.g. a Turckheim Pinot Gris and Dr Loosen Riesling is listed, or you can have Saigon beer. I was very impressed by this visit: the ingredient quality was much higher than is often the case in oriental restaurants and the cooking of the duck and sea bass demonstrated excellent technique, as did the carefully controlled spicing in the sauces.

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