Unpretentious, authentic and delicious
Looking at the menu it's hard to tell where the grill might be used. It's a big-old selection they have here and it's full of very confusing descriptors too. I was particularly struck by the "Chou Chou Buddha Hand Melon, with crushed garlic & touch of rice wine". I don't care what it is or what it's served with, I want a Chou Chou Buddha Hand Melon.
In fact, the menu is so cryptic I'd probably have to eat my way through it to discover the grills. But given that the food is truly delicious and felt perfectly authentic, I'd do it in a heartbeat. Our seafood platter had some of the best fish rolls I've ever tasted, in particular the sushi-like prawn and lemongrass ones, which were addictive with the sweet chilli dipping sauce. My Cassava Vermicelli (prawns and crab stir-fried with knotweed) was wonderful. With every mouth was a different but complementary flavour, in particular the hit of raw chillies they threw in just before serving which gave what could have been a heavy dish a fresh, floral touch. It was like being kicked in the mouth by daffodils.
Given the abundance of Vietnamese cuisine on Kingsland Road I'm amazed this place hasn't ruined the competition. Perhaps it's the tacky sign outside that looks more like an American diner than anything. But this place has real soul and fantastic food. Authentic doesn't really cover it. Who knows what that means these days, because all dishes and cuisines have evolved so much. Authenticity is a feeling you get, where you can trace a dish's lineage. It's inherent in certain flavours, in dishes, in chefs. It's natural and loyal to its cuisine.
Authentic food doesn't need to be told what it is. You don't tell Bruce Willis he's authentic. He's just Bruce Willis.
How he came into this I have no idea, but I think the simile works. Just.