Not too long ago, I’d have to go to Paris to satisfy my craving for banh mi.
What a difference twelve months can make! While I wouldn’t say London has a huge banh mi scene now, there are at least half a dozen places to find those porky-savory-sweet-spicy sandwiches I love. Most recently, I tried out Banh Mi Bay in Holborn, which is just a ten-minute cycle ride from my house thanks to those snazzy Boris bikes. Score. (If anyone from TFL is reading this, by the way, we’re dying for docking stations around Islington Green.)
I’ve actually visited Banh Mi Bay twice over the last month. Not because it was that amazing, but only because the first time I showed up, it was dinnertime, and when I tried to order banh mi, the restaurant told me they’d “run out” of banh mi during the afternoon. I was pretty crushed. I mean, the restaurant’s named Banh Mi Bay, and they ran out of banh mi?
I regret not having asked why the restaurant couldn’t make more banh mi during the intervening hours between lunchtime and dinnertime.
So, involuntarily, I’ve had more than just the banh mi at Banh Mi Bay. Cha gio and summer rolls were good, but I still felt like I’d been cheated somehow.
Jon and I ordered basic rice vermicelli (bun) and rice (com dia) dishes. Pluses: plenty of chilis on the side to liven up the otherwise-bland nuoc cham; good non-clumpy texture to the rice vermicelli noodles. Minuses: much of the grilled pork had been burnt to a crisp. I wouldn’t return to Banh Mi Bay for these.
Learning from the mistake I made during that first visit, I showed up for lunch the second time around. To maximize the odds that Banh Mi Bay would be serving banh mi, of course.
And you know what? It was good. The bread, too often the downfall of banh mi, had a light, crackly crust, and a soft, pillowy interior. Plenty of chili kick and a good amount of sweet-crunchy pickled veg. Worth the second trip.
Not satisfied with just banh mi, Jon couldn’t resist seeing what the “meatballs” listed on the menu were. And these were pretty good – a DIY deal. You assembled your own rolls using pre-softened rice paper wrap.
Ending our banh mi lunch with some sticky-sweet Vietnamese coffee (who knew condensed milk could be good?), we left happy and full and only £15 lighter in wallet for the two of us. The cafe is pretty, the prices low, and the service attentive. I’ll be back, though only for the banh mi.
Banh Mi Bay, 4-6 Theobald’s Road, WC1X8PN; 0207 831 4079; closest Tube stations: practically a tie among Holborn, Farringdon and Russell Square.
For other posts about banh mi in London:
- Caphe House, London Bridge (23 August 2009)
- Banhmi 11, Broadway Market (11 July 2009)
- Banzi Vietnamese, Surrey Quays (1 June 2009)