What springs to mind when you think of the word “baguette”? A bakery in Paris? Mopping up sauce whilst listening to fast-flowing French? Or how about…Vietnam?
Didn’t think so. I was more than a little surprised when I was tipped off about a Vietnamese lunch place, north of Holborn, with supposedly great Vietnamese baguettes.
It’s an easy enough place to find, but if you’re stuck in the dark ages like myself (ie. you don’t own a Smartphone), be careful before you think you can memorise a map. Luckily, my incredibly patient friend came to my rescue and guided me to the incredibly busy Bahn Mi Bay.
The Place: Banh Mi Bay
The Food: Vietnamese
My first thought on entering this over-crowded café was: “The queue is so long! How will I ever get served in time?”
My second thought was: “Wow! How did they build such a life-like robot?”
This robot was behind a glass screen. Spread in front of him were tubs containing various fillings. Two piles of baguettes lay to one side. The robot moved so quickly that his hands and the ingredients became just a blur of movement. He could make sandwiches in less than 10 seconds. Open-mouthed I watched. Then my stomach growled at me, “For Christ’s sake, Pheebz. Look at the menu!”
I was in the fortunate position of requiring both lunch and dinner that day. So I ordered myself a Banh Mi Bi (caramel shredded pork) Vietnamese-style baguette and a Bun Vermicelli (noodle salad) with Ga Sate (satay chicken).
Now I have to say that I was not impressed with my baguette. At all. Firstly, I would like to know how the bread was Vietnamese as opposed to any other baguette one might purchase. Secondly, where is the filling?? Hello? Are you there? Caramel pork – get on my taste buds please! Cucumber, coriander and carrots do not make up for the fact that there is virtually no caramel pork in there. Being faster than a robot is all very well, but not if the job is only half-done. I felt it was £3.95 not well spent.
My friend was similarly unimpressed with the “special” baguette she got. Although the filling was significantly more… present, the pork/crab paté smeared throughout it was apparently a taste disaster.
But I had my noodle salad. And fortunately, it saved the day.
Yes, it’s not high cuisine and it’s not the greatest quality lunch box ever served (let’s face it – no-one can rival the bento boxes in Japan, which are works of art in themselves). But the satay chicken was tasty and not the dry kind that likes to stick itself to the roof of your mouth. It lay across a bed of thin Vietnamese rice noodles, bean sprouts, carrots, cucumber, lettuce, covered with healthy sprinkling of peanuts. This was served with nuoc cham (dipping sauce), which consists mainly of fish sauce. It wasn’t fishy, but added a light yet flavoursome garlic-chilli taste to the food. (In my ignorance, I mistook the sauce for dressing, which worked just fine).
I was satisfied and, at £5.50 for take-away, I thought it was reasonable enough for central London prices. I can only imagine how delicious this dish must be if made in a good-quality Vietnamese restaurant. Recommendations anyone?