City Caphe

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The banh mi band wagon has well and truly rolled into town with the latest Vietnamese street food inspired eatery City Caphe. I am sure I must have eaten banh mi when I travelled through Vietnam a few years ago but I think I was more excited about the bread than the fillings at the time. There may have been a lot of negatives about the period of French colonisation in Vietnam but crusty baguettes is not one of them. Impossible to get elsewhere in South-East Asia the bread in Vietnam is such a treat. After all, the banh mi is the perfect combination of French and Vietnamese cusines. From the French you have the light as air baguette and from the Vietnamese the filling of meat (traditionally a combination of pork products) and the clean slivers of cucumber, carrot, fresh coriander, and a hint of chilli.

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The cheery interior of City Caphe

This perfect fusion of flavours and cultures became popular a few years ago in the United States, and then hit Paris thanks to its large Vietnamese immigrant population and now finally banh mi places are popping up in the UK. Unfortunately, so far the banh mi itself has been a little underwhelming until City Caphe came onto the scene.

It’s a tiny little place but the sunny yellow walls and cheery red metal chairs perk things up. There’s a sense of family and history from the smiling faces behind the counter to the framed photographs on the walls of Vietnam which range from old black and white pictures to recent travel snaps. Hand written Vietnamese phrases decorate the tables along with bottles of fish sauce, hoi sin, chilli sauce and fresh mint leaves so diners can customise their food.

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Banh mi fresh from the cart

The banh mi are prepared from a banh mi hawker cart like the sort used on the streets in Vietnam but devastatingly on my first visit the cart was empty. Arriving just after 1.30pm all the banh mi had sold out so I had to opt for one of City Caphe’s other offerings, the bun and co’m (£5.80) a salad of hot, slightly charred and smoky Vietnamese roti chicken served with vermicilli noodles and a salad of cucumber and carrot match sticks, coriander and fried scallions. The salad is cleverly served with the nuoc cham chilli dipping sauce, scallions and chopped nuts all in individual containers so you can take it back to your desk to dress without the salad going soggy. My only hesitation would be that this results in a lot of packaging, and even if you eat in as I did you are still eat from the cardboard and plastic container rather than a bowl.

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Bun and c’om

It was a great salad but it was no banh mi so a repeat visit was called for the next day to satsify my banh mi craving. Arriving at 1pm this time I was in enough time to get my hot little hands on a baguette. Made to City Caphe’s specifications the baguette has a hard, crispy exterior then is all soft, fluffy lightness inside. The filling of chargrilled pork (£3.85) was tender made with good quality meat and there was plenty of thinly sliced cucumber, carriot, daikon and fresh coriander to add some crunch and clean, fresh flavours to the roll.

City Caphe does stock other lovely treats as well like steaming bowls of pho (£5.85), fat, and translucent summer rolls stuffed full of salad (£3.75), even home made cakes like banana bread (£1.50) but it is going to take a lot to lure me away from the banh mi.

Essentials
Details: City Caphe, 17 Ironmonger Lane, London City EC2V 8EY (Tube: Bank)
Damage: Such a bargain my mother would approve
8/10

Links
If you liked reading this you might like reading about eating bahn mi in Paris at Saigon Sandwich.City Càphê on Urbanspoon

6 comments

  1. GC
    I can’t believe you found a place makign vietmanese subs, esp since i’ve left the UK now. I first had them when i was living in Calgary where they Calgary Famous as a lunch time sub. When i came back to the UK i tried looking for them with out any success but never knew their viet name which probably didn’t help. Well will have to put it ont he list for when i come back for a visit. Good work finding them

  2. That’s funny that you had to make a second trip for banh mi. The same thing happened to me at Banh Mi Bay (i.e., they ran out of banh mi the first time I visited so I had to settle for “regular” Vietnamese).

    City Caphe is slightly out of my lunchtime range, but close enough that I’m eager to try it out soon.

    And thx for the link. : )

  3. Loved this post. Lunchtimes get a bit boring sometimes and you just get stuck in a rut so it’s great to see somewhere offering something different. I’ll look it up next time I visit London!

  4. Mm I love banh mi too! I’m quite lucky I am not that close to a place that makes them or I would order one every day! 😛

  5. Uhm, not exactly impossible to get crusty baguettes in SE Asia, I’ve had plenty in my time!

    I just wish I could go to Panda Panda in Deptford of a lunchtime; their banh mi are awesome.

    Now, can someone please start selling good ones in Fitzrovia?

  6. Dex – Yes put it on the list for sure, when I was in Vietnam I didn’t know what they were called either.

    American in London – it appears that bahn mi are very popular!

    Jo -So much better than Pret!

    Lorraine – I am not great at self restraint either

    Lizzie – Really? In Thailand, Cambodia and Laos I really struggled to find good bread. Vietnam was a revelation for me in that sense. Will have to put Panda Panda on the list!

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