Com Viet, 2-4 Garrick Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9BH
The need for authentic food is generally overstated in English food writing. It’s mainly worn as a badge of general tofferry against establishments that have the audacity to branch out into cuisines that they wouldn’t normally be associated with. In the real world of good tasting food however, authentic or not, this doesn’t stack up – you try and tell Pablo from my local pizza house that he can’t sell that kebab meat to me at 3am unless he reveals his long lost Turkish heritage!
By the same score, I’ve never been to Vietnam. I’ve swooned over images of their pagoda architecture and stunning scenery and imagined the sounds and smells that would accompany a visit to one of Hanoi’s famous Night Markets, but I’ve not yet found the opportunity to visit. I therefore couldn’t tell you if the food at Com Viet is authentic or not. What I can tell you is, whatever label you can place against it, in an area of London overrun with eateries offering a plethora of cuisines and lunchtime specials, Com Viet manages to offer value for money and food that tastes very, very good.
I was excited at the opportunity to lunch in a city that, whether us northerners like it or not, is streets ahead in terms of culinary variety, knowledge and for the most part, quality. Because of this, I thought a search for a decent independent eatery in the capital would be an easy one. What I didn’t factor in was the overgrown forest of glitzy chain restaurant’s which seem to pop up around each corner and make it difficult to see the wood for the trees. Sitting down for a latte (very cosmopolitan but, when in Rome…) I traded my manual search over to the assistance of Tripadvisor (how predictable!); Com Viet was now the destination of choice.
A great choice it was too. A lunchtime meal of 2 courses and a soft drink for £9 cannot be sniffed at in this area of the world. The restaurant itself creeps up on you somewhat around one of many Covent Garden corners, its pokey exterior belying the amount of covers at its disposal (mainly downstairs in the basement). This lunchtime however I was seated upstairs, where a significantly less amount of room was available and seating arrangements were potentially worryingly intimate.
Choosing a starter of salt & pepper squid and a chicken pho main from the set menu, the time between ordering and food arriving was minimal. It’s clear that lunchtime requires a quick table turnaround but based upon this experience, this never feels intrusive. Both dishes arrived at my table simultaneously; and both were equally good. The squid were coated in a light and importantly crispy batter and served with a good hunk of red chillies, spring onion and crisp garnish. The umami taste of the salty squid brilliantly married with the sweet hot chillies – perfectly enjoyable on its own, so much so that the bottle of Sriracha hot sauce that was left as an accompaniment remained untouched.
A huge bowl of Chicken Pho was no less delightful. Accompanied by a side plate of beansprouts, mint, chili and lime (presumably to make it to your own particular taste), even on a hot day such as this, it was deliciously warming, fresh and clean. Mulling over the accompaniments, I did think about using them sparingly at first, before my gluttonous instincts prevailed and the whole plate was added pretty hastily. Not the full lime though, only the juice – I’m not a complete animal! None of these additions distracted the dish from its flavour however. The distinctive and forceful broth able to accompany all these elements whilst at the same time, placing a soothing arm around the translucent noodles and screaming, ‘Eat me!’.
As lunchtime eats go, this was a fair old bowl of food which took a while to polish off. But who am I to complain? I was paying a remarkable price for quality food in an area of London which has more than its fair share of inflated prices.
If nothing else, Com Viet has taught me there is good value to be had in the capital at good independent eateries. I would have kicked myself if I had ended up paying for lunch at Nandos, or worse, Subway when these are the staple of the South Yorkshire restaurant diet. I wouldn’t hesitate to re-visit Com Vet next time I’m in the capital but at the same time it has made me eager to try more of the wonderfully fresh flavours from the likes of Vietnam, Korea and Malaysia, so my second visit may have to be put on hold. I would however urge those authentic pedants to give it a try, and just enjoy what is on offer.