Kate Ryrie rates this Vietnamese gem, but not for those in a rush
The first Saturday night of February hits Leeds. Lower Briggate spills its revelry into the road. A bassline – or two, or three – thuds the rhythm of weaving taxis and shrieks of laughter. It’s early, but not too early.
This street is one of many secrets, and not least of these is Viet Guy, the unassuming Vietnamese joint nestling beside Smokestack. You’d be forgiven for missing its ordinary signage and generally too-steamed-up-to-see-in windows, but if a whiff of the chef’s best pho catches you as you pass, no one would hold you accountable for your actions.
Silence reins at the table as chopsticks pinch and sauce spatters
So here we find ourselves on this wintry Saturday. Stepping into a bustling chaos of diners, promised a table of four by a waiter who grins from behind circular gold-rimmed spectacles, before conjuring four seats from nowhere, and ushering us into the gap.
The menu is lengthy, printed on sticky laminated sheets, and full of the kind of translation errors that can’t help but endear you. Hanoi Beers (£3.50) ordered – to complement the prints of North Vietnam hanging above our table. If you’re after a soft or a glass of vino, there’s decent choice there too.
To get going, chicken summer rolls (£4.00) arrive fresh and crunchy, accompanied by possibly the most astonishing peanut sauce I’ve ever tasted. Everyone on the table has dipped their finger in by the end. Upping the starter game, our other sharing choice is Bánh Xèo (traditional Vietnamese pancakes) which arrive bursting with prawns and chicken – and heat in a big way.
So far, so good, even if the long wait for those starters has got us a bit restless. Ordering more beers to placate rumbling stomachs, we have to ask twice about the mains, which take another hour to arrive.
When they do, they’re delicious, even if half the table is now twitching about getting the last train home. We enjoy coconut sizzling chicken (£8.50) – a warming curry dish served straight from the hot plate – with a side of plain noodles (£2.00) and a dish of stir-fried morning glory with tender, sticky pork alongside a heart-shaped mountain of egg fried rice.
My flat noodles with tofu (£7.00) slightly let the side down on the flavour side, with spongy pieces of tofu that don’t reach full potential, but it’s made up for by Bún Hà Nôi (£9) – a dish of chargrilled beef, vermicelli noodles, veg, fish sauce and peanuts. So fresh, so much flavour – and all served with a giant bunch of coriander and mint to chuck on at your leisure.
Silence reins at the table as chopsticks pinch and sauce spatters in the way that only a flicking noodle can instigate. I order a glass of Shiraz (£4.50), which the waiter amusingly refers to as simply ‘Hardy’s’. I suppose he’s not wrong.
All in all, food is delicious, fresh and abundant with flavour; the dining experience is authentic and unpretentious; and the price is fairly reasonable. We forgive the long wait as we wave goodbye to a smiling team of waiters, who thank us, and hope we’ll be back soon.
Viet Guy, 159 Lower Briggate, Leeds LS1 6LY
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All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Summer rolls 7, Bánh Xèo 6, Flat noodles with tofu 5, Coconut sizzling chicken 7, Stir-fried morning glory with pork 7.5, Bún Hà Nôi 6
Friendly and charming, but oh so slow
Bustling, lively, authentic – lovely if you don’t mind sharing your table with other diners