A banh mi crawl in the City of London

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.

[image image_id=”4990″ align=”left” size=”medium”]

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.

[image image_id=”4992″ size=”medium” align=”center”]

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.

[image image_id=”4994″ size=”medium” align=”center”]

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.

[image image_id=”4998″ size=”medium” align=”center”] [image image_id=”5004″ size=”medium” align=”center”]

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 [link2post id=”3905″]local joint in Woolwich[/link2post], but I left feeling a very tiny bit deflated.

[image image_id=”5001″ align=”right” size=”medium”]

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.

[image image_id=”5005″ size=”medium” align=”center”]

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.

[image image_id=”5007″ align=”center” size=”medium”]

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.

[image image_id=”5008″ align=”center” size=”medium”]

  • David, brilliant – I love the hurts-so-good pleasure of a really spicy banh mi. The question is, what do you like to pair with it wine-wise? I don’t have the heart to throw any really expensive wines into the fire with banh mi yet, lest I lose all the extra nuance that I paid for, but so far I’ve had really good results with basic rieslings with a tiny bit of residual sugar, and some otherwise pedestrian California chardonnays. I may have to try a Chablis next.

    Also, my favorite take on banh mi here in New York is actually a Cambodian spin on it from a place here called Num Pang. Have you found anything like that in London? Or else you’ll just have to come to New York!

  • Hello Alan,

    My very first taste of banh mi was in New York at Nicky’s Vietnamese Sandwiches when I visited back in 2005 – I was instantly converted. I’m so pleased they have made it over to Blighty.

    I agree entirely about the match with Riesling. I go for searingly dry ones, though, but also of only limited grandeur. That being said, I once popped a bottle of the rather spiffy Grosset Polish Hill Riesling with a global thermonuclear war-level chillied-up ‘spiced chicken’ sandwich from my local purveyor and it was a superlative combination. As I sweated and swore my way through the sarnie the frightening acidity of the Polish Hill slashed through all the rich, spicy and hot flavours and made me feel totally alive. If you can be bothered to attempt some of that normally woeful Sauvignon-Blanc wine I think a really vivacious Sancerre might work as a good match.

    Red wine combinations seem more of a challenge to me – something bright and fruity, maybe? Red Sancerre? Chinon or another Cab Franc wine? Maybe a slightly rough Argentinian Malbec? I’ll have to experiment.

    Anyway, many thanks for dropping by the site – always nice to hear from other lovers of characterful and satisfying food.

  • David, great ideas – I would love to put a Sancerre to the test – perhaps a Labaille or Domaine Vacheron. Just this past week I had a lovely Chinon – an 05 Joguet Chinon Franc de Pied Varennes du Grand Clos that had admirable acidity that would enable it to stay fresh against the scorching grilled goodness of one of these sandwiches. The malbec is an interesting idea, and one that I think would work well with a banh mi filled with pork or even steak, which I have enjoyed now and then here despite it feeling decidedly less traditionally Vietnamese.

    Of course, the best pairing yet that I have found wasn’t wine at all, but this Korean yogurt drink we had in the house once that I grabbed for in emergency.

    I do have two cool-climate, high-acidity California pinots open right now so I may just put them to a banh mi trial-by-fire today, even if that might not have been my first pairing choice. I’ll let you know how it goes!