Warning: if you eat at Le Bambou in Paris do not put your bowl of Pho down with a few slurps still left in it as the bowl will be whisked away before you get a chance to finish it off. Serving excellent Vietnamese food at low prices, Le Bambou makes its money from turning tables quickly so beware if you feel like lingering over your meal.
In the heart of Chinatown (even the McDonalds has Chinese writing) you don’t really feel like you are in Paris when you eat at Le Bambou. There are just as many Vietnamese speakers as French speakers and then of course a handful of Les Anglais who have trekked out to Le Bambou after reading Chez Pim’s glowing recommendations or those of Juliet Lac from the Paris Woman’s Journal.
The restaurant is nothing to look at. The decor is utilitarian with tiled floors, tables packed in elbow to jowl, mirrored walls and some faux bamboo to top it all off. As I said before, unlike most restaurants in Paris where you are encouraged to stay as long as you wish at Le Bambou you will be bundled out the door quickly whether you like it or not. It is entirely possible to order, eat and pay within half an hour. If you do visit Le Bambou try to get there before 9pm as by that time a queue of people waiting to eat snakes out the door.
The service is ruthlessly efficient and borders on rude. The multi-lingual couple sitting next to me on one occasion (they spoke French, Vietnamese and English) were in hysterics over what the waiting staff were saying in Vietnamese as they tried to turn the tables. Despite all of this I managed to eat at Le Bambou three times during my month in Paris because not only is Le Bambou very cheap it is also very good indeed.
The Pho accompaniments
One page of the menu is entirely devoted to different varieties of Pho. The Pho Chin is a meal in itself arriving in a huge bowl whipper snap fast (€7). The soup itself is pungent, dark and laden with thin slices of beef brisket and an accompanying plate of bean sprouts, mint, coriander and chillies. Each slurp is soul satisfying. Not everything is stellar, pork spring rolls don’t live up to the high standards of Pho. They are probably better described as rice paper rolls and even doused in nuoc cham sauce the rolls have a slightly dry texture.
A better choice is the grilled chicken which has a smoky, charred flavour and is served with rice or noodles. The standout meal though is the “Spicy Beef” (No 84 on the menu, €8.50). Large chunks of beef are slow cooked until they are so tender that they fall apart at the slightest touch. The beef is served in a terracotta hot pot along with carrots and a separate bowl of rice. It is almost like a casserole but Vietnamese style. Don’t be put off by the name “Spicy Beef”, there is a slight hint of fieriness but Vietnamese food is generally fairly mild especially when compared with the cuisine of its neighbour, Thailand.
Le Bambou serves the best Vietnamese food I have eaten in Europe. Even the table turning can be welcome when you want a quick meal in a city where things such as eating generally take a long time. It is also worth a visit alone just to check out the bling on the owners fingers. He has more diamonds than Elizabeth Taylor. Clearly the fast turnaround is paying dividends.
Details: 70 Rue de Baudricort, 75013 Paris, France (Ph 01 45 70 91 75) Metro: Maison Blanche.
Closed on Mondays. No bookings.
Damage: Such a bargain even my mother would approve.