There are plenty of small, independent restaurants scattered in between the estate agents and charity shops that line stretch of King Street running from Ravenscourt Park towards Hammersmith, some looking more inviting than others. Da Nang Kitchen may not look like much from the outside – in fact I walked right past it initially as the grey signage is subtle and the windows are tinted so you can’t see in to the restaurant’s interior – but it offers some pretty impressive, authentic Vietnamese cuisine at reasonable prices, and is conveniently located for a pre-theatre bite before a show at the Riverside Studios. My dining partner and I recently visited for exactly that reason, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to get writing and feature Da Nang in my next restaurant review.
Da Nang’s interior décor is striking without being overstated, the deep red walls hung with mementos of Vietnam (over our table, for example, there was a simple but effective dark wood map of the country, with Hanoi, Saigon and, of course, Da Nang, marked out in gold lettering). When we arrived at 6pm the restaurant was empty, but it quickly filled up over the course of our meal and by the time we left at 7.30pm was replete with tables of casually dressed diners, all of whom seemed to be enjoying the relaxed atmosphere and delicious delicacies.
The menu at Da Nang is impressively broad and we took our time to decide on our dishes, so we were glad to tuck in to a bowl of brilliantly crispy prawn crackers with hot and spicy dipping sauce while we “ummed” and “ahed”. Eventually, we made our minds up and opted to share two starters between us. A dish of salt and chilli soft shell crab, lightly spiced and deep fried in crispy batter with a chilli dipping sauce had excellent textures – succulent crab meat contrasting with the crunch of the shell and the crispy batter – but was a tad over-salted for our taste. Our other choice of traditional Vietnamese Summer Rolls was simply delightful, as the freshness of the delicate vermicelli rice noodles, crispy shredded lettuce and generous amounts of prawn, calamari and pork enveloped in thin, soft rice paper, really allowed the sweetness of the accompanying sticky, plum dipping sauce to shine through. The dipping sauce was topped with dainty slivers of crispy fried garlic, which brought an appreciably aromatic finishing touch to the dish.
For main course, my dining partner thoroughly enjoyed an eye-wateringly spicy yet beautifully fragrant red chicken curry, which managed to bring out the flavours of lemongrass, coriander and coconut despite the underlying chilli heat. A side of coconut rice was perfect for soaking up every last drop of the curry sauce. Curiosity prompted me to sample the Chef’s Choice dish of crispy Vietnamese pancake filled with beansprouts, tiger prawns, calamari and pork for my main course. This was, I suppose, the Vietnamese take on a savoury crepe and it was certainly an interesting dish. The tiger prawns and calamari were both excellent – perfectly cooked with a succulent, meaty texture. The pork was meltingly tender, but the cuts of meat were far from lean and I found myself cutting off and leaving a few chunks of fat as I worked my way through the dish. The beansprouts were also well executed, just cooked through but retaining a pleasing crunch. I found the pancake itself extremely tasty, with a slight spice to the batter which tantalised my tastebuds. I only wish it hadn’t been quite so greasy. All of the dish’s components were wonderfully accented by the liquid dipping sauce whose notes of chilli and lime were sweetened with sugar and underpinned by the distinctive flavour of south-east Asian fish sauce. The accompanying salad was a great refresher, with a mixture of peppery salad leaves, tangy cherry tomatoes, and some fantastically sweet, lightly pickled shredded cabbage and carrot.
While main course portions were far from stingy, both my dining partner and I were keen for some dessert. I was over the moon to find that Da Nang offers a typical Vietnamese rice pudding – warm, sticky, glutinous rice peppered with nutty white beans and swimming in sweetened coconut milk. While I absolutely love desserts like this, I have to be honest – they’re unlikely to hit the spot for most Western palates – my dining partner’s take on my dessert was that it tasted “like overcooked coconutty porridge”. His choice of banana fritter was rather more anglicised, but no less delectable. The batter was perfectly crisp and there wasn’t too much of it, the banana was sumptuously soft with an almost caramelised flavour, while the accompanying vanilla ice-cream tempered the sweetness of the generously drizzled golden syrup that topped off the dish.
Da Nang’s wine list is more extensive than you’d typically find in a Vietnamese restaurant, and with house wine starting at just £12.95 per bottle offers some excellent value tipples. My dining partner and I were very pleased with our choice, the aromatic but easy drinking Baron de Baussac Viognier (£17.95), whose notes of peaches and apricots accented our food perfectly. Service was prompt and unobtrusive, but lacked a little fluency in places – my pancake was brought out with my dining partner’s coconut rice, for example, but we weren’t given any indication that the curry was on its way or how long it might take. Still, it would be churlish to complain about such minor details when prawn crackers, three courses, wine and service come in at an eminently reasonable £32 per head. Da Nang’s overall score therefore comes in at an impressive four Forks-Up.Da Nang Kitchen 216 King Street London W6 0RA T: 020 8748 2584