Friday, 25 March 2011
Kêu!, Old Street
Considering the abuse I occasionally get for slating (or otherwise) restaurants based on one visit ("you should be fair-minded enough to visit more than once" - er, no thanks) then reviewing somewhere based on a single dish may seem deliberately provocative. But in the case of Kêu!, a brand-spanking-new Vietnamese sandwich bar from the prodigious talents behind Cay Tre and Viet Grill restaurants, I hope I'm on safer ground because, firstly, being a sandwich shop one dish is all most customers will order anyway, and secondly, people don't generally tend to get as bothered about positive reviews. And thanks to a truly magnificent Banh Mi from Kêu!, this review is going to be very positive indeed.
With Josh from Cooking the Books having visited already this week to try the house special Keu Sandwich (spiced belly of pork with ham terrine and chicken liver pate), and being suitably impressed with it, I thought I should attempt to explore another corner of the menu; perhaps BBQ Mackerel, to see if they are as comfortable with seafood as meat, or even the 'Lap Xuong' sausage just to see what the hell it even was. However, I'm only human - one look at the rows of glistening pork ribs hung up behind the counter at Kêu! and I found myself ordering a BBQ Pork banh mi, along with a £2 cup of blood orange juice.
I was a little concerned at first to see the baguettes were more of the French crusty style than the lighter rice flour type used by the guys at Banh Mi 11, but as soon as I'd taken the first bite it hardly seemed to matter. It was, quite simply, glorious. All the ingredients that make a banh mi so special were there - fresh herbs, the occasional bite of red chilli, the crunch of daikon radish and cucumber and sweet lemongrass, but lifting it into something legendary was a layer of the most unbelievably tender roast pork, perhaps the best example of its kind I've yet had in London, perhaps anywhere. Whether it was merely because I was early enough to catch it straight out of the oven or Kêu! do in fact make roast pig better than anybody else is something only time will tell, but for now I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. I ate the sandwich, with its complex balance of fresh herbs and silky pork fat and chilli, in awestruck silence.
I have since learned that the bread used by Kêu! for their banh mi is the result of months of research in collaboration with Clarke's bakery, and the reason they haven't gone down the rice flour route is that to create the "authentic" ethereally light-but-still-crunchy trademark banh mi baguette involves the use of artificial improvers, something they were unwilling (probably quite rightly) to do. So yes, the crunchy sourdough is a little hard on the jaw muscles and isn't strictly "authentic" but on the other hand it adds flavour, a lovely golden colour and is a top quality craft product in its own right, so shut up and enjoy it.
As if I needed yet another reason to wax lyrical about Kêu!, there's the little matter of the price. This is by some distance the best sandwich I've enjoyed in a long while, nearly a foot long, stuffed with premium expertly cooked ingredients and encased in artisan bread, and to be charged £4.50 for it just seems like some kind of confidence trick or early April Fools joke. Think how much you'd be charged for a 12" "Meatball Marinara" from depressingly virulent Subway, horrible things in soggy plastic "bread" which seem to taste completely identical no matter which of the myriad of processed fillings you choose. Kêu! couldn't be more different - it's cheap, delicious and made by clever, talented people who care, and I intend to spend the next few weeks working my way through the rest of the menu.