Posts Tagged ‘banh mi in London’

interior of Banh Mi Bay

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.

cha gio (£4) and summer rolls (£3.50)

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.

shredded caramel pork com dia (£6.50)

char-grilled pork bun (£6)

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.

chargrilled pork banh mi (£3.50)

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.

"meatballs" (£5)

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.

Vietnamese coffee (£2)

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:

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pork banh mi from Banhmi11, at the Ca Phe coffee stand in Broadway Market

pork banh mi from Banhmi11, at the Ca Phe coffee stand in Broadway Market

Banhmi11 is a stand in Broadway Market that sells one thing only:  banh miVery exciting.  In case you didn’t know, I’m a banh mi fan.  The obsession started years ago when I lived in Washington, DC.  There, the Song Que grilled pork banh mi was worth the hassle of driving out to suburban Virgina.  (And if you know what traffic is like around there, you know it’s quite a sandwich).

Since moving to London almost four years ago, I’ve searched in vain for banh mi.  Baffled by the sandwich’s absence from the otherwise-vibrant London dining scene, I’ve resorted to either making my own at home or making trips to Paris (OK, sure, there are other reasons I go to Paris, but devouring banh mi while there is always a priority).

Slowly, but surely, though, banh mi seems to be making an appearance in central London.  A few weeks ago, I found banh mi at Banzi in Surrey Quays after a helpful tip was left by Charmaine Mok on this Paris blog post.  Banzi’s version wasn’t bad, but Surrey Quays is kind of a pain for me to get to.  I’d almost rather go to Paris.

And then the ladies behind Banhmi11 left a comment on my Banzi blog post, telling me they’d set up a banh mi stand in Broadway Market.  That’s 2.5 miles from where I live . . . just a quick jog away along the lovely Regent’s Canal.  So I literally ran over to check it out.

Banhmi11 stand in Broadway Market

Banhmi11 stand in Broadway Market

Today was Banhmi11’s first day in action.  They’ve set up a small cart next to the Ca Phe Vietnamese coffee stall in the center of the market.   £2.50 gets you a pork-and-pork-liver-pate banh mi.

So here’s the good:  the pickled veg is fresh, crispy and tangy; the pork-liver-pate is so creamy and meaty that I actually left the pate in the sandwich instead of picking it out.  [In past banh mi I’ve had, the pate has been a flavorless, rubbery, Oscar-Mayeresque bologna-type thing that grosses me out.]

The bad is that the bread, while warm and toasted, was overwhelming.  There was so much bread that the tasty, fresh fillings seemed skimpy and the sandwich seemed dry.  If there was a zesty Vietnamese mayo in there, I couldn’t tell.  Jon and I ripped off and threw away at least a third of the baguette to re-jigger the proportions.  Even then, we felt like the fillings could have been more generous.

But here’s why I’m still telling you about Banhmi11:

(1) as a banh mi lover, I want to support entrepreneurs like Banhmi11; (2) I liked that the Banhmi11 women seemed to be asking all their customers for feedback; and (3) I liked that when I told them that there was way too much bread, they sounded like they were really listening.  I have a feeling they’re determined to make a great sandwich, so improvement is a foregone conclusion.

So I’m thinking that if the baguette gets smaller (and maybe even higher quality) and they load the sandwiches up with more pickled veg and meaty goodness, Banhmi11’s banh mi will be one I look forward to every weekend.

For anyone curious to try banh mi, the Broadway Market is itself worth a visit (my personal fave are the samosas at the Gujarati Rasoi stand), so no harm in dropping by Banhmi11 one Saturday, no?

Banhmi11, currently part of the Ca Phe Vientam stall in the middle of Broadway Market.  Closest tube station:  Bethnal Green.  But it’s still a major hike from the Tube, so I recommend the bus.  Lots of buses run to the adjacent London Fields.

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Banzi Vietnamese restaurant in Surrey Quays, London

Banzi Vietnamese restaurant in Surrey Quays, London

Having just spent a weekend in Paris eating a lot of banh mi, you’d think I would’ve satisfied my craving for this bit of East-West sandwich deliciousness. But no, the minute I got back to London, I continued to wonder who sells the stuff here.

Cue Charmaine, who left a comment on my blog, telling me there’s banh mi to be found in Surrey Quays, which a google search revealed is not far from Canada Water station. Finally, my working in Canary Wharf turns out to be convenient to something yummy!

So, after work last Friday, I dragged Jon east on the Jubilee Line to Canada Water, and then it was a quick bus ride down to the Surrey Quays shopping center (I’ve never in my life seen such an enormous Tesco, by the way). Five minutes’ walk later, we were at Banzi.

The place is tiny and nondescript. It’s not a dive, but it’s not much to look at. The dining room’s lone server was doing her best to handle the sudden flood of diners coming in at around 7:30 pm, so Jon and I grabbed our own menus from a pile I spotted in the corner.

I eagerly scanned the menu, and there it was: a whole section of the menu devoted to banh mi, and none cost more than £4.

grilled pork banh mi at Banzi restaurant, London

grilled pork banh mi at Banzi restaurant, London

We slogged through a few forgettable appetizers – a spicy chili fried prawn dish with an unpleasantly-soft coating and a banh xeo that was all sprouts and hardly anything else inside – and then, my wish was fulfilled: a generous serving of grilled pork banh mi. Thick slices of barbecued pork, lots of pickled veg, coriander, cucumber, chili spice, and creamy, slightly-sweet mayonnaise. The baguette was of the par-baked supermarket variety (crispy and hot when hot out of the oven but otherwise too sugary). In one bite, I could taste sweet, salty, spicy, creamy and smoky flavors. The beauty of banh mi.

Banzi’s version was a tad too heavy on the mayo and overall sugariness, but I’ll definitely be back the next time I need my banh mi fix. The place is a bit of a schlepp, but it’s closer than Paris, and it appears there are other worthwhile Vietnamese places in the area. Maybe one of those other places serves banh mi, too.

Banzi Vietnamese restaurant, 237 Lower Road, SE16 2LW; 0207 394 0906. Closest tube station: Canada Water
Banzi on Urbanspoon

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