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.
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.
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.
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.
Details: City Caphe, 17 Ironmonger Lane, London City EC2V 8EY (Tube: Bank)
Damage: Such a bargain my mother would approve
If you liked reading this you might like reading about eating bahn mi in Paris at Saigon Sandwich.