Long-time readers will know that here at Elitistreview we are well up with super-fashionable sandwich action and so get more than a cheap thrill from a big mouthful of Vietnamese baguettes, aka banh mi. Yesterday we made the journey into the City of London and tried two hotly-tipped banh mi establishments – they made our previous experiences with these sandwiches seem somewhat flaccid.
Our first stop was City Caphe, tucked away on Ironmonger Lane. This is considered one of the hottest new dining establishments in the City so we made sure we arrived at opening time in order to secure a table. In addition to banh mi they also serve a few other Vietnamese delights – we ordered a sandwich each and a portion of spring rolls.
The spring rolls were lovely. Freshly fried and packed with flavoursome goodies. Some might find them a tad on the greasy side but I found this to add richness to the wonderful tastes. Really good stuff.
We chose a viet chicken and char-grilled pork banh mi. My first bite of the bread was a delight, it was super crunchy thanks to it including rice flour. However, as I battled through the sandwich I found myself thinking that the bread was just a bit too crunchy and lacking lightness or much in the way of a soft interior.
Furthermore, delicious as they were, we thought that the sandwiches were a shade on the under-filled side and, in order to get a good combination of crunchy and soft textures, we had to add plenty of chilli sauce. Don’t get me wrong, we enjoyed these sandwiches very much, and they were better than those from our local joint in Woolwich, but I left feeling a very tiny bit deflated.
A speedy taxi journey deposited us at Banh Mi Bay on Theobald’s Road. I can say without hesitation that I had the two very best sandwiches of my life here.
As you walk in to Banh Mi Bay the smell is incredible, they have a charcoal grill laden with bits of grilling meat ready to be stuffed into sandwiches. We ordered a some grilled pork balls and a barbecue pork and a spiced pork banh mi with the intention of swapping half way. By arse we ordered obscenely well.
As I started off with the barbecue pork sandwich I was staggered. The meat had an amazingly powerful flavour of pig cooked to drool-worthy perfection. It had all the correct textures and, oh yes, it tasted freaking triple-A. I expected a step down in quality when taking possession of the half of spiced pork sandwich but I could not have been more wrong. The pork tasted sublime and, when it was combined with pickled vegetables and truly fantastic Vietnamese mayonnaise, it made for a superlative sandwich experience. Dani said he preferred the barbecue sandwich but, brilliant as it was, it was not quite at the stellar peak of the spiced pork. I want more of these banh mi, and I want them soon.
The pork balls followed and they were more sausage-like in shape. Supplied with insanely thin and sticky pancakes one is supposed to wrap them up with some vegetables and sauce. This was certainly a good thing to be doing, but in all honesty I could have just horsed my way through a massive serving of just the balls unadorned. A quick lunch really does not get much better than those delivered by Banh Mi Bay.
We enjoyed ourselves greatly on our lunch jaunt and would recommend both places as banh mi destinations. City Caphe deals the authentic goods successfully, but be prepared to sauce-up your sandwiches. Banh Mi Bay was a revelation – I knew I loved banh mi but didn’t quite realise they could get this good. Good to know that there are always boundaries of pleasure to be pushed further. Visit, you will not regret it.
Contact details: City Caphe, 17 Ironmonger Lane, London, EC2V 8EY and Bánh Mì Bay, 4-6 Theobald’s Rd, WC1X 8PN.