I’ve developed an obsession for Banh Mi lately. It’s these beautifully light Vietnamese baguette sandwiches that I have been craving for the last month. Now, I’m in the danger of glorifying a sandwich BUT once you have tried these, you won’t go back to the old ham & cheese with the odd limp salad leaf poking out ever again.
The uniqueness of a Banh Mi not only lies within the French influenced baguette but it’s also the flavourful Vietnamese fillings that make the marriage of the two main ingredients a true love affair.
The Vietnamese style French baguette is made of rice flour, making it super light without sacrificing the crusty texture. Fillings could include oven-roasted pork belly, Vietnamese sausage, grilled pork patties, BBQ grilled chicken, shredded pork rolls and always fresh cucumber slices, fresh coriander, pickled carrots and shredded mooli. Freshness of the herbs and vegetables is key, you actually feel healthy after eating one. Don’t forget to add a little spicy chilli sauce which will give the Banh Mi a whole new angle.
The obsession started when we found a tiny Vietnamese baguette shop on Upper street in Islington. We had just finished lunch with friends and were en route for some Ottolenghi cakes when we came across Pho Express that sold Banh Mi and Pho noodle soup. It was barely bigger than a broom cupboard with a few stools in it. We got talking with the owner who claimed he makes the best Banh Mi in London…so we had no choice but to try it out. We ordered a BBQ grilled pork Banh Mi and washed it down with their iced Vietnamese coffee. From that moment we were hooked – but with no benchmark, how can we tell it was the best in London?
Determined to find the holy grail of Banh Mi, we found ourselves in Banh Mi Bay in Bloomsbury a week later. Gorgeously decked out Shabby Chic style, the service was incredibly fast and the staff attentive. We ordered the Banh Mi Bi (shredded caramel pork filling) and Banh Mi Dac Biet – Bay Special (pate, spiced pork & pork roll). It arrived within seconds, presented in a lovely baguette basket. Both were really fresh and the flavours were very tasty but the filling was cold. We also tried their Vietnamese spring rolls with nuoc mam dipping sauce and Banh Canh noodle soup (homemade Vietnamese noodles in a light pork broth, garnished with chopped herbs & fried shallots). The food was faultless and we would definitely recommend it to our friends…but despite the beautiful decor their Banh Mi was not as tasty as Pho Express.
We went treasure hunting for more Banh Mi places and found Banh Mi 11, who run a stall in Broadway Market every Saturday. We liked their Cha Cha Chicken (grilled chicken marinated in coconut & lemongrass) and Quad Meat Special (pate, BBQ pork, roast pork, pork ham in banana leaf, chicken ham). Also based in Broadway Market was Ca Phe, the stall famous for their drip-filter coffee with condensed milk – we had to try their beef Banh Mi too.
After consuming 8 Banh Mi between us over one weekend, we agreed that London’s best Banh Mi is definitely from Pho Express in Islington. The broom cupboard is no looker but the food certainly makes up for it.
149 Upper Street
Unit B, London N1 1RA
Banh Mi Bay
4-6 Theobald’s Road
London WC1X 8PN
+44 20 7831 4079
Banh Mi 11 & Ca Phe
London E8 4QL