Rave reviews for City Càphê populate pretty much every restaurant listings website there is. Not so many years ago, to get a steaming bowl of pho you had to go to Kingsland Road – home of London’s most famous collection of Vietnamese restaurants. It seems now though, that the rest of the city is starting to realise how brilliant a cuisine it is, with restaurants popping up all over the place. If you have never tried Vietnamese food, think Chinese food but with less oil, stacks of herbs, and a French influence.
City Càphê is one place that I would definitely recommend. Nestled into a side-street near Bank in the city is an odd place to find a small family run Viet restaurant – nearby workers had obviously cottoned onto how good it was though, evidenced by the queue snaking out of the door and down the street. My desire for a banh mi wavered momentarily when I saw said queue, but I joined the end, and was able to check out the menu through the window. Despite it moving fairly quickly thanks to the quick service inside, it still took just over 10 minutes to get to the front and order, having grabbed a box of summer rolls out of the refrigerator on the way.
If you have never had a proper banh mi (no, the Pret one does not count) it probably just looks like your average baguette, right? It’s obviously directly influenced by the French occupation of Vietnam, however, a Vietnamese baguette differs by having a thin crunchy, crispy crust, and air-like inside – not chewy or dense like a normal baguette. Fillings included a thin layer of pork paté (or ‘terrine’ as the menu said) which was of finer texture than the average, slices of roast pork, coriander, mint, cucumber and picked daikon (radish) and carrot, topped with Sriracha chilli sauce. A good size and huge flavour punch for the bargain price of £3.95.
I love summer rolls, but always feel they aren’t good value in restaurants – mainly because (a) they are basically a tiny amount of salad stuffed into a sheet of rice paper, and (b) I can make pretty good, more creative ones myself. Anyway, these were the typical kind – slice of pork, couple of prawns, lettuce, rice noodles and herbs, served with the obligatory hoisin/peanut butter sauce – but a bit larger than the average.
Mess Factor – 1 a salad wrapped into a neat parcel basically
Value – 2 I have issues
Taste – 3 a standard take on summer rolls, usual refreshing taste
Speed – 2 a separate queue for no-prep-required items would be good
Classic Pork Banh Mi
Mess Factor – 4 the downside of the crispy baguette is the amount of crumbs
Value – 5 excellent price, no wonder it is so busy
Taste – 4 a little light on quantity of filling so you don’t taste much of the pork, delicious nonetheless
Speed – 2 huge queues, get there early (or late)