Xin Chao, North Finchley: Review of the Week

Now this is one heck of a review – and a classic example of what we love about our review system. This week’s Review of the Week winner, Radovan, deserves every penny of his £25 prize for this incredibly in-depth and informative report.

“I don’t usually go for restaurants with less than 5 reviews (I’ve come to rely on my ‘tried and trusted’ favourites far too much) but yesterday afternoon I felt much too jaded to go for what are essentially the standard options for the area: pizza, Indian or Chinese. And so I encountered Xin Chao, a Vietnamese place from North Finchley with, at the time, 4 reviews. I did a search online for other reviews and whilst people’s experiences seemed to differ, my overall impression was that Xin Chao could cater to that day’s more esoteric cravings. So, armed with an HH voucher, I placed the order, fully aware that my adventurousness could backfire in quite a disappointing fashion. But… BUT… I was very impressed, I have to say. To the extent where I felt compelled to write a review.

Firstly, a note on the service: my order was supposed to arrive between 19:35 and 20:15. At 19:30 I got a phone call, apologising and telling me my food would be 15 minutes late due to the foul weather. As it was indeed foul outside, I understood – I was in no hurry, although I wasn’t quite sure whether to be mildly annoyed by the delay or pleased with the service. But, if they are going to be late, it is best to let the customer know so, in the end, it was a good touch. Plus, the food only arrived 5 minutes late anyway. Now, here’s what I ordered: – bo la lot (betel beef): an odd one to describe. Basically, grilled minced beef wrapped in a leaf and served on a bed of salad and plain vermicelli noodles. The meat was very flavourful and tasty and, taken with the noodles, I felt the plainness of the latter blended well with the rich flavour of the former – seafood canh chua: hot and sour soup, basically. A medium-sized pot with vegetables, chilli slices, two large pieces of baby calamari and two pieces of large tiger prawns. Oh, and some pineapple, but this was a good thing! It was very well balanced and, taste-wise, certainly one of the best take-away sweet and sour soups I have had in a while.

It certainly is priced higher than most and I was pleased to see that I got what I paid for. Would I have liked more seafood? Yes, but I was impressed enough with the flavour and the positive effect pineapple (which I normally am not a fan of) had on the overall taste – lemongrass goat bun sa: my main dish, although I ate very little of it as, at this point, I was surprisingly well-stuffed. Once again, I was pleasantly surprised with the flavour balance and the lemongrass goat was, I felt, a good choice of meat for this dish – there also was a small complimentary pack of standard prawn crackers that came with the order. Free, so much appreciated. Overall? The reviews of this place I read online seem to be quite divergent: some people slam the food as bland whilst others couldn’t get enough. Vietnamese cuisine, from my experience, is not quite as ‘in your face’ as Chinese or Thai may be, so it’s not surprising that people who expected something similar were not impressed. I got the impression that the reviewers choosing more adventurous dishes tended to rate the restaurant higher. This influenced me in picking dishes I haven’t had before. I was impressed.

The restaurant is priced higher than your standard take-away but I think every dish I had last night was worth the money. It wasn’t worth more, but it certainly justified the price, as the standard is significantly higher than at some other places I have tried. Quality of food: 5/5 – everything was not just ‘all right’ or ‘good’, but positively tasty and that is a new take-away experience I haven’t had in a while Level of service: 5/5 – food arrived 5 minutes late but with a good reason and I was informed of the lateness well in advance Value for money: 4/5 – Xin Chao is more expensive than the usual take-away but I felt the quality of the food justified the price, without it being a straight-out ‘bargain’. Will I order again? Yes, I will. They may or may not meet the high standard set by the first meal, but my experience definitely justifies further exploration of their menu.”

Order now from Xin Chao, North Finchley