On a whim, a friend and I decided to have dinner tonight at Chung Viet, which is just north of the Deptford Rail Station. It's a hole-in-the-wall place, and the cook (and owner?) are North Vietnamese, which was explained to me when I asked why they didn't have banh xeo on the menu. I'm not super familiar with differences between Northern and Southern Vietnamese food, but there were some differences I noticed in preparation of some dishes we ordered, and it seems like there are some interesting things to explore on the menu (especially on Fridays, when more specials are available).
At first, based on appearances, I didn't have high hopes for the food, but the meal turned out to be excellent. This is only the 4th place I've had Vietnamese food in London, but it blew all the others out of the water in terms of taste and value.
Stir fried beef w/ vermicelli was delicious - served w/ sweet/sour/fish sauce on the side, which we poured on the noodles. The beef was flavorful, and there were bits of both basil and a lemon-tasting herb (lemon basil? kinh gioi?), along with peanuts, bean sprouts, fried shallots.
Chicken salad was also very good, and different than versions I've had in San Francisco. No cabbage or lettuce - instead, there were cucumber slices, shredded onion, carrot, and what looked like baby lotus roots (but maybe they were something else? - they almost seemed like they came from a can?). Also lots of shredded chicken, mint, basil, peanuts, all in a delicious dressing which tasted like it had a hint of sesame oil, in addition to sugar vinegar and a bit of fish sauce. In some ways the flavors here were similar to Vietnamese chicken salads I'd had in SF, but I think the dressing made it taste a bit different too).
Pho w/ rare beef - Pretty standard presentation (bean sprouts, basil, chili, lemon on the side), with nice portion of rare beef. Noodles were slightly overcooked, but not bad. Broth was excellent. I was pretty positive about the broth at Nam, which I tried the other night (see here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/663115) but the broth at Chung Viet was so much better that it's kind of laughable to even compare them. Perfectly salted, rich beef flavor, nice spicing - tasted as good as any pho I had in SF (my favorite there was Turtle Tower)
Portions were big. Prices were very reasonable. With a pot of green tea and way more than enough food for two, the total bill came to £20.
Again, it's a hole-in-the-wall, and the bathrooms were far from pretty, but the food here definitely seems to be made by people who know what they are doing. I am feeling quite optimistic lately about all the great chow-worthy places in London. This morning I didn't even know that Deptford existed (let alone that it had several Vietnamese restaurants). I will probably try to go back soon, perhaps to try a banh mi sandwich which I also saw on the menu!