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.
My head rating says, “7 out of 10″.
My heart rating says, “6 out of 10″.
82 Highbury Park
Tel. 020 7704 9148