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Au Lac

Pronounced “O Lak” and if you’re hailing a cab to this place, don’t forget to tell your man that the name of the restaurant is spelt as “Au Lac”.

Enough for linguistic challenge.

This is a tip-off by a food guru. Au Lac is a neighbourhood Vietnamese restaurant 10 minutes away be foot from Highbury Tube Station. Like Coconut Grove Cafe on St Paul’s Road, the scene is not that of glamour. The dining room is straightforwardly dull. You go in, eat the food and come out – as simple as that.

The only twist is that the food here is actually very good and very reasonably priced. Adding to this is the massive portion that doesn’t make one feel obese. And there I was tucking into two starters of (1) Vietnamese Pancake with Chicken, Prawns and Beansprouts Filling and (2) Fresh Rolls with Prawns and Vermicelli. Both came with the sweet chilli sauce diluted with vinegar, a typical Vietnamese dipping that goes with almost everything. The Vietnamese “pancake” was, in fact, a thin, crispy tumeric-infused wafer. Tumeric was my rough guess, I might be wrong. Wafer-wise, it was the best I came across in London. The filling of, basically, chicken, prawn and sprout stir-fry was quite oily, sadly. The Fresh Rolls are good enough. The sticky rice wrapping tasted fresh. There was this pleasant elastic texture that contrasted well with the crispy shredded iceberg and the vermicelli inside. The prawns for both dishes were adequately bland. Not sure if they were frozen.

The main of Rice Vermicelli with Chargrilled Pork, to my surprise, was the best Vietnamese thing that ever happened to me. The pork was nicely marinated and grilled to this most tender texture with a smoky scent. I poured a whole mini bowl of the sweet chilli dressing and mixed at all up well. Fresh crunchy iceberg, light basil and mint aroma, crispy fried garlic topping, bouncy vermicelli and the super pork. Loved it!

That said, I was not sure if the deep fried spring rolls were extra or accidental. They seemed at odd with the rest.

Au Lac has delivered the most authentic Vietnamese meal in London, but on this occasion, I admit I am no expert when it comes to Vietnamese. Worse of the worst, I tend to have reservation over Vietnamese food 1000 miles away from its origin because Vietnamese cuisine, it seems, utilises a variety of fresh herbs to maximise the tasting senses. The herbs do not transport well – literally. And on previous occasions, many of the Viet offerings on Kingsland Road have let me down. Au Lac is not only an exception but also a surprise. It is not perfect but it meets half way between London and Hanoi.

Enough said,

My head rating says, “7 out of 10″.

My heart rating says, “6 out of 10″.


82 Highbury Park
N5 2XE

Tel. 020 7704 9148

Au Lac on Urbanspoon


  1. Pingback: Cheap Eat Chinatown Continues… « The Skinny Bib

  2. David

    Very, very disappointing!
    I am a huge fan of Asian food, especially Vietnamese food. I have eaten many authentic Vietnamese dishes and this didn’t even come close. The food was bland and overpriced for the quality. Both spicey dishes I ordered were tasteless and not even remotely spicey.
    I would say that people who enjoy the food here have never eaten good Vietnamese food.
    I will definitely not be going back and I would recommend people to stay away.

    • Hi David,

      I am sorry to hear your experience differred from mine. I believe there is an extent to which Asian restaurants can replicate authenticity in London, firstly, because of the cost of imported ingredients and, secondly, because they do not have enough audiences who would go all the way “authentic” or so I would assume. I base this assumption on my experiencing Thai food in London. To me, Au Lac is a good mediation. It is a neighbourhood restaurant catering locals who might not be necessarily adventurous in regard to spicy-ness. I find this to be similar to a few other Thai restaurants in Highbury. Still, I found my noodle a delight and the other two dishes adequate. All were quite large. That said, my dishes were the non-spicy as many Vietnamese dishes are, and that led to a different experience, I must say.

      I was wondering if you could recommend any Vietnamese restaurants that are worth a trip in London? I am sure this will be very helpful to me as well as many reader here.

      Have a good Easter :)

  3. Huyen

    Try Cay Tre in Old Street @theskinnybib. They are sophisticated Vietnamese cooking with vietnamese herbs and British resource like meat from Ireland, fish from Devon etc. I’ve read you have try the other branch when it was just open. Now try their Pho and Bun Bo Hue with crab here. Worth a visit for sure

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