Saturday, 1 October 2011

City Caphe London Bahn Mi - handy bite at Bank


Address: 17 Ironmonger Lane
London EC2V 8
Tel: 020 7000 0000
Nearest Tube station: Bank

Ratings (out of 5 *)
Price: Below £5pp
Service charge: N/A
Taste: ***
Service: **
Ambience: ***
Knowing that I'm a sucker for bahn mi, MC left me a comment in Sen Viet's review and suggest that I check out City Caphe over at Bank. He was right, I couldn't resist a good bahn mi and we were over there for lunch the very next day.

Ask a Londoner where their favorite bahn mi spot in London is and I'm pretty sure Broadway Market's Bahn Mi 11 would count as one of them. Other than the bahn mi packed with fresh greens, it is really the mini tables and stools that gives the whole bazaar feel to it.

There's really nothing more important in a bahn mi than fresh ingredients (well, like most other dishes). A creation of French Indochina, bahn mi combines the best of both France and Vietnam - the former's baguette and the latter's pickled carrots, cucumber, chilli etc. As bahn mi is usually served at room temperature, the fresh sliced vegetables is pertinent to provide the cool irresistible crunch that is sought after by bahn mi fans.

"It's just round the corner from Goldfish City. Make sure you arrive early," cautioned MC in his SMS, "otherwise you would be standing behind a long queue." Heeding his words, I arrived at around 11.30am that day. Other than two tourists who were more interested in the Vietnamese ice milk coffee (£2.50) in my hand, there wasn't any customer in the cafe.


Tucked along Ironmonger Lane beside Harry's Bar, which one could easily missed, City Caphe turned out to be larger than expected. Though it could be more spacious, it definitely not the hole in the wall that I had expected. Clearly, the owner spent some time doing up the place; bits of embroidery were hung from the ceiling and photos that reminded me of Saigon adorned a wall.

"...there was a swarm of
customers herding into City Caphe
at exactly 11.45am.

Service could be likened to an assembly line. Orders were taken promptly if not a tad curt, not unlike the popular hawker stalls back home when the stallholders know that you would overlook the service if you like the food enough. In fact, it reminded me of Starbucks where initials of the customers were noted for the order collection later on. To increase in turnover rate, the popular bahn mi selections were prepacked and laid out neatly in the glass display shelf just before the lunch peak hour.

True to MC's word, there was a swarm of customers herding into City Caphe at exactly 11.45am. It was rather amusing really - it was as if they were lining up at the side alley waiting for the cue. The queue extended soon after that despite City Caphe having two pairs of hands just doing bahn mi with an entire kitchen staff (I caught of glimpse of them when the kitchen door swiveled opened) churning out pho, bun, bun hue and cuon. By 12pm, the queue extended out along the pavement. Its length remained pretty much constant till 1pm despite it moving rather quickly.


Enough about how popular City Caphe is. Its lemongrass beef bahn mi (£3.90) while decent was not out of this world. I thought that the baguette was a bit too dense for my liking. The beef slices could be thinner as well. By the time we settled down on one of the four small tables within City Caphe, the entire place was packed with people who were either queuing or waiting for their orders. It wasn’t exactly pleasant having people’s bums and knees knocking onto your back every now and then.

Then again, if you are taking it away, City Caphe’s bahn mi would beat Pret’s sandwiches any day. This is definitely the place to go if you are looking for a cheap (but substantial) bite that taste good and yet healthy. The perfect spot to savour this French styled Vietnamese sandwich? The benches at St. Olaves Place just round the corner further along Ironmonger Lane.

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