Bun Hue, Bahn Mi and Rolls – City Caphe, Cheapside

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I know this looks like a big lunch but I had a partner in crime for lunch today. Though I could happily finish everything if I wanted to!

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Was reading another food blog and there was a post about City Caphe which I realised is pretty close to where the Boom works while only a 15 mins walk across the bridge from me. When it comes to Asian food, Korean, Japanese, Chinese and Thai food are pretty well represented in the City but not Vietnamese. So City Caphe is a much needed find.

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When the Boom and I got to the place, the queue was about 15 deep but it moved pretty quickly and we both got our orders after 5 minutes. Not such a bad thing to be in the queue as it gives you time to decide what to order. In general, the choices includes soupy noodles like pho or bun hue, vermicelli salad or rice with a choice of grilled meats, bahn mi filled with grill meat options and either fried spring rolls or summer rolls.

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The Boom went with a bahn mi with chargrilled pork (£3.50) and the fried spring rolls (£3.75) while I went for Beef Bun Hue (£6.50) and the summer roll (£3.75).

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The problem with eating lunch in the city is finding a place to sit. There are limited seats in City Caphe but as food were made to order, it was pretty stuffy in the shop. Most people bring their food back to the office but sometimes taking a break from the office setting relaxes the mind. Thanks to the Boom who found this peaceful and tranquil setting near the Guildhall.

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The Boom enjoyed his bahn mi. His one minor gripe is the bread could be lighter in texture.  Get the lady to go easy on the sriracha as Boom was scorched by the sauce half way through his sandwich.

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We shared both the rolls and Boom preferred my summer roll while I have yet to have mine as my Bun Hue was very generous portion wise, especially the thinly sliced beef. The fried spring rolls was served with a portion of nuoc cham while the summer roll was served with a different sauce.

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Once again, I’m always impressed when the herbs are provided in a separate container. In this instance, there was sliced chilies, basil and some beansprouts. I would have loved more beansprouts. Word of caution, for those of you who can’t take the heat, suggest you go for the pho rather then the bun hue.

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Cute pictorial to link Vietnamese words to the food it represents. Will definitely go back to City Caphe when I’m craving for soupy noodles.

City Caphe
17 Ironmonger Lane
London EC2V 8EY

Chicken Pho and Rainbow Side Salad – EAT, Bankside

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The HR department where I work always give out freebies or offer vouchers as long as you make an afford to pay them a visit and collect the freebies in person. Last week I scored 2 free bottles of anti dandruff shampoo (no, I do not have dandruff!) while this week was £1 off when you spend £6 voucher from EAT. Seeing the voucher is from EAT, reckon there must be one nearby so I went on the hunt.

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This is the first time I’m exploring this stretch of Bankside as it is a bit out of the way from my office entrance. Apart from EAT, there is a Zizzi, Pizza Express as well as The Real Greek and the omnipresent Starbucks.

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Feel a tad under the weather today and needed some comforting, I got the Chicken Pho at £4.99 and the Rainbow Side Salad at £2.59 to take the bill over £6 so I can use the discount voucher from HR. Boom is correct, £6 is not a figure plucked out from thin air, you need to at least purchase 2 products to enjoy the discount and I got suckered into it. Total bill after discount came up to £6.58.

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I used to have the noodle pots from EAT all the time and though I do make it a point to try their limited edition noodles when available, the Chicken Pho is my staple as it is light, refreshing and the cheapest of the noodle pots. I always appreciate the high ratio of veg vs noodles, it almost makes you feel healthy eating it. Don’t forget to get the server to add chopped chili to your noodle pot and a hard squeeze from the lime wedge will give your noodles a slight wicked edge.

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Over the years, I have noticed that EAT has been tweaking the recipe for their Chicken Pho. If I recall correctly, egg noodles was used when they first started serving this. Then there was a period when they swap to thin rice noodles or bee hoon for those in the know. It has been awhile since I had the Chicken Pho and I’m glad they now used the correct rice noodles, the broader kind known as kway teow or guo tiao depending on which chinese dialect you speak.

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Continuing with the healthy theme, the Rainbow Side Salad was made up of muki beans, pomegranate seeds, lentils, barley, cranberry, melon seeds, capsicum, shredded carrots and chives. I hope I did not miss anything. The zingy and tart mint dressing compliments the sweet components of the salad very well while the beans and pulses puts your jaws on a workout.

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I know, some people might think EAT is boring and I guess it can be. But when you need some comforting, nothing is better than trial and tested food that you know will not let you down.

EAT
Unit 3 Riverside House
2A Southwark Bridge Road
Bankside
London SE1 9HA
0207 636 8309

Bun Bo Hue and Banh Mi Dac Biet – Pho, Spitalfields

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Had a team Xmas booze up last night and you can imagine how I feel today. Well, at least I managed to get to the office on time. Did bring my leftover mutton curry for lunch but need some comforting as I’m feeling rather fragile. Weird that seeing I’m such a big soup noodle fan, I only went to Pho at Spitalfields once.

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Instead of ordering my usual pho, I decided to order a bun instead, the Bun bo Hue to be exact . Not bun as in a bread bun silly, it’s Vietnamese and refers to the cylindrical rice noodles used in the dish as compared to the flat rice noodles used in pho. Also ordered a banh mi in case I still feel hungry after the noodles. The bun cost £6.45 while the banh mi was £5.50. Not a cheap lunch but the Junk needed some soothing.

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Like the pho, the Bun bo Hue came deconstructed, almost all components are packed separately to ensure freshness but can be a pain if you are starving. I guess it makes putting together a takeaway order easier as well as I bet the kitchen would have packed some containers beforehand. The bun was a nice change from the usual pho, the broth was spicy but still has a deep beefy taste. The lean beef was thinly sliced which is good and the plethora of herbs added freshness to the dish. Only complain would be that the portion seems to be rather small, much smaller than I recalled.

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There was 2 options for the prepacked banh mi, a chicken and a grilled pork. I went with the grilled pork and was pleasantly surprised that it’s says Banh Mi dac Biet on the receipt. if I’m not wrong, dac Biet means special in Vietnamese. You will be asked whether you want to add some Sriracha sauce (thai chili sauce) to be added while the Maggi seasoning sauce is added by default. The baguette is nice and light, pretty close to the ones I had when I was in Ho Chi Minh with slices of roasted lean pork, a smearing of pate and stuffed with picked mooli, carrots, coriander and spring onions. Perhaps I waited too long to have it, the baguette went a big soggy on me. How I wished I had more banh mi when I was in Vietnam, the £5.50 I paid could have bought me probably 10!

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In all, a good lunch. But food can’t rid hangovers, only time and loads of liquid will 😦

Pho
48 Brushfield Street
London E1 6AG
0207 377 6436

Chicken Noodle Supersoup – Chop’d, Old Spitalfield Market

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The healthy trend continues today at Junk4lunch but I promise my gluttonious self will return soon. As the weather turns colder, keep finding myself craving for soupy noodles. I have tried most of the soupy stuff from the independent as well as chain stalls around the area with one exception. So thought why not?

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Chop’d is one of those what I would call DIY salad places that have sprung up in recent years. The idea is simple, they categorized the salad ingredients into groups, then you get to pick a number of items from each group to create your own salad for a fix price. You may add more from each group at an additional cost obviously. I find the concept pretty fun but for those of you who are undecisive, it can be a nightmare trying to figure out what goes with what with the queue forming behind you. To solve this problem, Chop’d also have pre-made salads ready to go. Most of these are tried and tested combination so they can’t go wrong.

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Apart from salads, Chop’d also has a variety of hot stews, noodle soup, wraps and sweet treats. To satiate my craving, I grabbed the Chicken Noodle Supersoup tub from the fridge section and got it topped up with Thai Spicy broth. Other broth options include a vegetable and a chicken broth. The soup tubs come in 2 sizes, the small at £3.50 and the large is £5.50. With the large soup coming in at only 271 kcal, perhaps I can have some toast and Marmite later!

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I was surprised, that I was only given a spoon and suspect the noodles will be all cut up thus you’d only need a spoon. I was right (as usual) also, the proportion of noodle to other ingredient is surprisingly low. I think the thin rice noodles only took up 10% of the entire tub. No wonder they can keep the calories down. Apart from the rice noodles, the other ingredients are shredded roast chicken, brocoli, savoy cabbage, carrot, mushrooms, green beans, lemongrass, edamame and some onion confit (sliced onions that has been sweat down).

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Did I enjoy it? Well, the broth was light and strongly fragrant with lemongrass but could with more salt. All the crunchy veggies were a joy to chew, realised I did not really missed the noodles while the shredded chicken was moist and tender. I enjoyed it but somehow, it did not hit my taste buds the way Crussh did yesterday. Perhaps I’m really hungry today, I think this is best suited for a hangover day.

Chop’d
2 Horner Square
Old Spitalfields Market
London E1 6EW
0207 247 8757

Pho Off! Hop-Namo vs Pho

Pho Shop FrontAs promised, this is the summary post comparing what I think about the recent pho I have consumed. So without further a due, on with the match. On the left, the Vietnamese food with a modern twist with complicated restaurant relations, hailing from Shoreditch Boxpark, Hop-Namo!

On the right, claiming to be London’s first Vietnamese street food restaurant, originally from Clerkenwell now with branches almost everywhere, Pho!

On with the match! Ding Ding!

Round One – Packaging

Pho and summer rollsSo the noodles, soup, condiments, herbage etc from Hop-Namo were all placed into the same container. I guess from a convenience perspective, it straight forward. Open container and tuck in.

But if the travel back to office is long, then it’s not ideal. The noodles and bean sprouts would have soaked up all the soup and will be mushy and soggy. Especially if like me, you like your soup piping hot. It will be impossible after a blast in the microwave.

Pho in containers

Pho took the trouble to package almost all of its pho’s components separately. This is especially handy if you take it home or the journey back to your office is long. But it is an effort to combine all the components together.

So if you want convenience, Hop-Namo’s offering is ideal. But if you have a long journey or intend to save your pho for later, then Pho’s offering is the way to go.

Round 2 – Condiments and Herbage

If you have read my post on the pho from Hop-Namo you would have remembered my astonishment when I found a bright yellow wedge of lemon when I open the pho container. That to me is a faux pas of the highest caliber! It should be lime and never lemon! If lime is unavailable, then one is better off without. Also, Hop-Namo’s version was missing the quinessential basil and mint with just some coriander included. Granted, they did add julienned carrot and daikon besides the expected bean sprouts. But the addition does not augment/enhance the broth’s taste like mint and basil can.

In constrast, the herbs and condiments that came with the pho from Pho (try saying that ten times, fast!) was generous and of the right variety. Sprigs of mint, basil, coriander, bean sprouts, sliced onion, spring onion, sliced red bird eye chilies and yes, a lime wedge. The herbs as mentioned above were packed separately thus maintaining their freshness. Don’t underestimate the ability of the herbs, As you enjoy your pho, add the herbs gradually and the broth’s taste will alter as you go along.

The clear winner for this round is Pho.

Round Three – Taste

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Hop-Namo’s Entry

Funny how much the 2 pho look alike when you put both pictures on the same post. But taste wise, they are worlds apart. The entry from Hop-Namo was way too salty, too peppery and lacking the anise and beefiness a pho broth should have. The beef brisket is sliced unevenly and thus some slices are tough and chewy. The beef balls are too peppery and even the attempt at grilling them did not help. The only saving grace is the wide gauge rice noodle they used. Not typical, but I like them.

Pho stirred but not shaken

Pho’s Entry

As for Pho’s version, it was what a classic pho should be. The broth has a right balance of beef and anise flavour yet subtle enough leaving room for you to customise the taste with herbs and sauces. The beef brisket was sliced evenly and the beef balls were nicely seasoned. Only complaint I have is with the thinner gauge rice noodles. They start to break apart making hard to handle with chopsticks. Remember they were packed separately from the broth, can’t image how the noodles will be if left to soak.

Clear winner again, Pho.

Verdict

I think the results is very clear, Pho win hands down. On hindsight, I should have selected contenders that are closer in caliber to make this a more worthwhile bout. Hope you enjoyed it nonetheless.

Hôp Namô
Units 48 & 49
Boxpark
Bethnal Green Road
London E1 6GY
0207 729 9723

Pho
48 Brushfield Street
London E1 6AG
0207 377 6436
Mon-Wed 1130 – 2200
Thus – Sat 1130 – 2300
Sun 1130 – 2200

Pho Chin Bo Vien – Pho, Spitalfields

Pho in containers

Clockwise from left: Fried Pork Spring Rolls, Bean Sprouts/Sliced Onions/Spring Onions, Slice Beef Brisket and Beef Balls on top of rice noodles, Soup, Bag of Herbage

So today is part two of the Pho Off! Apologies to everyone who was looking forward to this. The weather was nice and warm recently and not conducive for soupy and hot lunches. But I decided to pull my finger out today.

So Mr CSS and I decided to get lunch together today. It’s nice to have a buddy walk with you and a good opportunity to talk about other stuff apart from work. Appreciate the fact that though he decided to satisfy his addiction for the Chicken Katsu Curry Rice at Japanika, he still walked with me to Pho. Thank you!

Pho Shop Front

I have eaten at other branches of Pho before, the Oxford Circus and Westfield Shepherd’s Bush branches so I know the quality of the food. This branch at Spitalfield is brand spanking new. At most a month old? It has a cut down takeway menu and the takeaway counter is upstairs up a flight of wooden stairs. According to the takeaway menu, you can call and order in advance and just turn up to collect. I did not know about that so ordered on site. It did not take that long which was great! Apart from pho, they have other interesting choices so definitely worth a revisit in future. Since this is part of the Pho Off! installment, I had to order a pho. I went with the Pho Chin Bo Vien and a side of Fried Pork Spring Rolls. Chin = Beef Brisket, Bo Vien = Beef Balls. Total bill came to £10.90. Yikes! Perhaps I can do without the Fried Pork Spring Rolls….

Pho Herbage

The small budge on the top right hand side contains sliced red bird eye chilies

I know that when you eat in, you will get a tray of herbage for you to customise your pho the way you want it. I was not expecting this with a takeaway so was pleasantly surprised. The small bag contains sprigs of mint, basil, coriander and a lime wedge. Yes! Lime wedge, not lemon. They even bothered to separate the evil sliced red bird eye chilies! That’s the way to go!

Pho with torn herbage

If you refer to the first pic, I really appreciate that almost all the components of the pho is packed separately. This prevents the bean sprouts and rice noodles from getting soggy if they were soaked in the soup. But it does take some effort to assemble all the components and tear up the herbage.

Pho stirred but not shaken

This is what I expect a pho to taste like. Though not as good as what I have tasted in Vietnam, I think it’s not a bad attempt, for a chain store at that! The broth could do with a stronger star anise taste but has a deep but not coying beefiness. The herbage and squeeze of lime juice really helps to life the flavour. The beef brisket was slice evenly and of the right thickness and the beef ball taste as they should. All in all, I was satiated.

I really did not need the Fried Pork Spring Rolls. I was stuffed after I finished the pho (well, I drank all the broth).They were filled with minced pork, granted carrot, rice vermicelli and wood ear mushroom. It was nice and crispy when hot and is served with a side of nuoc chiam. Maybe a tad oily. I only had 1 roll and kept the rest as a snack for later.

I don’t think it takes a genius to know which of the 2 pho I prefer. But I will still bored you folks with a PROPER summary post in the next couple of days.

Pho
48 Brushfield Street
London E1 6AG
0207 377 6436
Mon-Wed 1130 – 2200
Thus – Sat 1130 – 2300
Sun 1130 – 2200

p/s: Mr CSS and I got caught up in a celebrity filming session on the way… guess who?

It's Robbie!

Who is the gentleman in pink? It’s Robbie Williams!

Pho – Hop-Namo, Shoreditch Boxpark

Pho off! No, I have no issues using the f word in my blog but if you think that is what I mean but is too bashful to spell it properly, you need to give your brains a good soaping! What I meant is the next 2 blogs will be about Pho, the Vietnamese noodle dish. Then I will follow up with a blog comparing the two based on a set of made up criteria to see which fare better. I’m going to try out the lesser known new kid in town (or so I think they are) and the high street chain which you will read about tommorrow.

2 container exterior

Hop-Namo, the Vietnamese eatery is the spinoff of Namo at Victoria Park Road which itself is the sister restaurant of Huong Viet. Don’t know about you, but it is beginning to feel lika an episode of Who Do You Think You Are! Both Namo and Hop-Namo style themselves as traditional vietnamese with a modern twist so I will mentally prepare myself for it to not be the real thing. Hop-Namo is located in Shoreditch Boxpark and there seems to be loads of bad vibe about this place. Yes, I know it’s meant to showcase individual, edgy outlets but instead it’s filled with pretty well-known brand names. C’mon, anything is better than wasteland no?

Wood panel interior

The decor of Hop-Namo is quite rustic and manages to disguise the fact that you are in a container. There are several recycled wooded crates on caster wheels under the wall seats. Not too sure what’s in them, extra cutlery perhaps? The menu is a good representation of basic Vietnamese street food and ranges from Banh Mi, Goi (Salad), Pho (choice of meat or tofu) and a few curries. A daily specials board is also available and the 2 dishes that caught my eye today was a Special Beef Curry and Grilled Pork Balls with Lemongrass.

Pho and summer rolls

Yikes! Bright yellow lemon wedge!

Seeing this review is about Pho, I ordered the Pho with rump steak (Pho Bo) and 2 summer rolls, 1 with shreadded five spice duck the other with prawns. The Pho is £6.50 while the summer rolls are £1.50 each. At a total of £9.50, not breaking the bank but not cheap either.

Close upThe summer rolls are what they are so I will not write much about them except they are a tad small for £1.50. I do like the small container they come in though, cute. So how is the Pho? I hate to say this but I don’t like it. Seeing a thick wedge of lemon in the broth when I first open the container is a bad omen, it should be lime, never lemon! The most important thing about Pho is the broth. It should be a nice balance of anisey and beefiness yet have a fresh and clean after taste. The version at Hop-Namo is too overpowering with a strong aftertaste of black pepper and definitely way too salty. Coming from me aka Ms Salty Queen, that’s bad. I’m quite surprised that the thicker version of rice noodles is used. They are not bad, just not typical in Pho. I was only expecting sliced beef rump but was surprised to also find 2 minced beef balls with grilled marks. The beef rump was sliced unevenly, most of them too thick making them rather chewy. They also have a strange lemongrass taste. I think they have been marinated. The beef balls are a disappointment. Once again, too much pepper!. Other condiments include bean sprouts, coriander, julienne carrots and daikon.

Will I go back to Hop-Namo again, perhaps to try the other dishes, but definitely not the Pho. Too much of a modern twist for me.

Hôp Namô
Units 48 & 49
Boxpark
Bethnal Green Road
London E1 6GY
0207 729 9723