I used to think I was a pretty good cook; not the kind that’s good enough to work in a restaurant but the kind that can throw together a meal without breaking into a sweat. I have a good grasp of basic kitchen skills, a decent repertoire of dishes I can whip up almost to perfection, and there haven’t been any major complaints… well not to my face anyway. So if you were me, you’d put yourself into the ‘can cook’ category wouldn’t you?
Those daydreams I had about ‘being crowned the next Masterchef’ or who I would pick as my partner on My Kitchen Rules swiftly moved from the ‘what if’ box to the ‘dreams are free’ one. It was a bit of a reality check, I’m a decent home cook but there are some scarily professional home cooks out there. Of Instagram’s 300 million users, I wonder how many of those accounts are dedicated to food because I have no doubt that hours could be spend scrolling through the never ending stream of food photos. Been there, done that. Well not in one sitting but since I’ve been on Instagram I shudder to think about how many photos I’ve liked, drooled over, and have been inspired to recreate.
This random scrolling is how I came across @the_little_viet_kitchen, an account filled with vibrantly enticing photos from Thuy Kelly, a supper club host and evidently, a very good cook. Like many other popular foodstagrammers, her photos are of perfectly executed, expertly garnished food on pretty plates, artfully arranged with other ‘props’ to help you imagine the scene at which you’d be lucky enough to be eating it. We all know we eat with our eyes as much as our mouths so it is hardly a surprise that food porn is such a hit.
After salivating over hundreds of photos, I saw the news that The Little Viet Kitchen was moving beyond covetable Instagram account and supper club to full scale, bricks and mortar restaurant! I was excited- finally a chance to see if the food really tastes as good as it looks or if it’s all just a brightness-increased, saturation-tweaked rouse. All looked promising when we arrived at the bright, shabby chic oasis on one end of the far from chic Chapel Market; the service was welcoming, as was the snappy list of dishes and drinks.
When the starters hit the table, my first thought was ‘yep, they sure look the part’, my second was ‘which should I post on Instagram’. The rustic ceramics, generous sprinkle of herbs, odd numbers and symmetry were all worthy of #foodstagram status and I’m happy to report they also passed the taste test. The lemongrass skewered prawn cakes were encased in the crunchiest of crumbs, our pork and prawn summer rolls were refreshing but nothing extraordinary. Much better were the fried spring rolls; ideally cut into bite sized pieces and not at all greasy, the pork filling packed bags of flavour. Or go for my favourite of the lot, the Vietnamese rice rolls, where under all those herbs, shredded egg, and what I think are strips of fish cake, sit thin, silky rice rolls filled with… you guessed it, pork, but this is pork overload in a good way.
Our mains are less pretty and precise, more comforting and hearty, which I like a lot. While they still look good, these dishes are all about good honest cooking. The pork belly and prawn crispy pancake has a decent amount of filling and is served with an overly generous amount of salad, while the chef’s special dry noodle bowl combines some of the starters we devoured earlier on top on noodles and salad.
A certain someone and I get the noodle soup options; him pipping me to order the bun bo hue so I happily settled for the beef pho. Having a taste of each other’s, we both agree they are excellent, perhaps one of the best phos we’ve tried. That’s a big statement but the broths are so rich with different layers of flavour- both are meaty, smokey, have hints of sharpness and saltiness, and good level of spice in the bun bo hue… move aside chicken soup for the soul, gimme a pho any day.
After all this food and several cocktails (highly recommend the lychee martini), mocktails and beers we should have called it a night but no… these greedy guts wanted dessert and this time I wasn’t even the main instigator! Sadly for me the banana, coconut and pistachio ice cream cake was sold out so we doubled up on the banana fritters which received mixed reviews around the table. What threw us a little was the batter, while adequately light and crisp, we just thought it seemed a little too savoury… perhaps it’s cooked in the same oil as the other fried goodies on the menu?!
The frivolous fritters aside, our dinner at The Little Viet Kitchen was quite simply, fantastic. It doesn’t come with any gimmicks, is charmingly unpretentious and focuses on the flavour and quality of the food. With new restaurants opening every week, many backed by celebrity chefs and large restaurant groups with bottomless budgets for professional PR and advertising, it is inspiring to see independent restauranteurs take on the challenge and be successful. Thuy and her team have done a pretty good job so do your bit and support them- your stomach and Instagram page will thank you for it!