When I caught wind of a Vietnamese lunch spot popping up in Bank, I immediately thought how thrilled B would be (he is forever lamenting the lack of decent eats near his work). Sure enough, the day City Càphê opened he was one of the first through its doors, and has been a regular since. Fed up of experiencing the bánh mì vicariously through B, I joined him there this week for a quick midday bite. The space is inviting – bright, cheery and full of character, with considered touches like a traditional banh mi cart where two workers stood busily assembling sandwiches for the lunch crowd about to descend. We arrived just ahead of noon to ensure a table and within minutes of taking our seats people started streaming in until all I could see was a sea of suits.
Wanting to try everything I ordered lots. The Classic Spring Rolls (chả giò) were small but stuffed to the brim with pork, vermicelli and wood ear mushrooms. Crunchy, delicious and incredibly munchable – they disappeared in no time at all. Nice piquant nước chấm (fish dipping sauce) as well.
The Summer Rolls (gỏi cuốn) were also lovely – shredded lettuce, vermicelli, aromatic herbs, pork and prawns wrapped snuggly in soft elastic rice paper. Light, fresh-tasting and gorgeous smothered in the sweet hoisin-based dipping sauce.
The bánh mì is the biggest draw at City Càphê and owner Julie has spent a lot of time collaborating with a local bakery to develop a bread that is close to the traditional Vietnamese baguette as possible. They did a fine job – the final product boasts a paper thin crisp crust with an airy spongy inner. Of the two bánh mì I tried, I preferred the Roti Chicken as the tender grilled meat was just so tasty. I enjoyed the Classic Pork as well, although I found the predominant flavour was of the pork roll (chả lụa), overshadowing the roasted pork and pâté. The crisp pickled vegetables added a pleasing contrast in texture, but could have done with more sharpness to give the sandwich a real lift.
The Beef Phở boasted a delicate, well-balanced broth with a hint of star anise, smooth slithery noodles and a mix of brisket and thinly-sliced steak. The steak was perhaps not as rare as I’d like but that is difficult to get just right as the beef continues to cook as it sits in the hot soup. It was a generous portion and the warm comforting bowlful really hit the spot.
A great little eatery with friendly and efficient staff (the lengthy queues moved with surprising speed) dishing up authentic fresh Vietnamese street fare. Despite it being a bit of a trek for me, I’ve already made plans to head back next week for a bún. The city folk are lucky indeed.
17 Ironmonger Lane
London EC2V 8EY