I have. I eat out a fair bit (obvs) and when researching my options I'll find myself trawling comments on Time Out, google reviews or London Eating to reassure myself that somewhere is worth going to. So few places get all out good reviews - and I started to notice patterns of negativity. If it's a hyped, trendy place most of the reviews will be moaning about the waiting time, disappointment that their gourmet fried chicken wasn't more WOW (hello...it's fried chicken, there's only so much you can do to jazz it up). If it's a cheap ethnic eat, commentators will moan about the decor and the slow or chaotic service. If people are in a big group, they'll moan about getting treated like a leper colony and sat separately with an edited menu.
There's a fair number of people whose expectations are way off, who are particularly fussy, or who think the world owes their group of 20 diners a full a la carte menu all served at EXACTLY THE SAME TIME. And it turns out they are all much more likely to write moany reviews on comment sites.
My point? Researching is perfectly sensible, but find a reviewer, blogger or friend whose opinion you trust and go with a good recommendation. Ignore the haters.
The Huong-Viet canteen on Englefield Road (De Beavouir Town/Dalston) is a place I'd been encouraged to go to by trusted friends, but discouraged by anonymous reviewers. I finally visited last night and it confirmed my thesis - my trusted friend was totally right, it kicked the arses of the Vietnamese canteens further down Kingsland Road.
Huong Viet is set back from the road in a scruffy looking former bathhouse. If you walked past during the day you wouldn't notice it. Inside it's cosily lit for a canteen-y restaurant and a more intimate buzz than its cousins down in Shoreditch. There's a localish vibe, but a nice cross-section of families, older couples, young professionals, as well as the ubiquitous bearded hipsters.
We shared a selection of starters. Dim-sum like steamed vegetable rolls...they came topped with crispy garlic and a fresh leaf salad. They were tastier than your standard veg rolls and a nice halfway house between summer (raw) and fried. The fish cakes had a wonderful chewy texture and slightly smoky taste. I hadn't had Vietnamese versions before, but they are more interesting than most of the Thai versions I've had before.
The highlight of the starters was their fried squid. It came lightly battered, and the squid pieces were really fresh, chunky and properly meaty. They didn't taste previously frozen - and if they were, it was far better than the chewy, plasticky type you often get.They were topped with crispy chillies and lemon grass, that was perfectly salty and moreish. There was barely a crumb left on the plate.
For mains I had roasted pork and aubergine in a light sauce - it was really good, with decent portions of both ingredients. The sauce was interesting too - quite a lot of dill, which was a surprise, but it's a great herb and went well. Lots of fresh ginger making it really zesty and zingy. My friends shared a sea bass fillet and some vegetables, which came in a really nice nutty sauce.
One of the main complaints by citizen reviewers was the service, but we found it to be relaxed, friendly and efficient. There was one minor slip up - the vegetables came instead of a tofu dish, but it was so delicious (and not too far off) that my friends didn't mind in the slightest. With a drink each, it came to just over £16 with service - very good value in my books. If you were thinking of going - GO! If not - still go. It's a great restaurant and I'm sure you won't be disappointed.