Thursday, 17 June 2010

Banh Mi Bay, Bloomsbury



I had my very first bánh mì (a kind of Vietnamese/French street food snack) from a little stall on Broadway Market over a year ago, and really rather enjoyed it. First of all, I was surprised by the texture of the bread - I'm told genuine bánh mì use baguettes made of rice flour, which provide a much softer texture than the usual crusty French sticks. Secondly, the filling was also interesting, with all the familiar flavours of good Vietnamese food (coriander, spicy grilled pork paté, pickled carrots and I think perhaps a dash of fish sauce) in a handy lunchbox-sized portion. The textures were addictive, the flavours recognisably Vietnamese and the price pleasingly low - I was impressed, and given the relative ease of setting up a stall and availability of the key ingredients I expected to see banh mi stall popping up on every street corner. For whatever reason, that never seemed to happen - banh mi in London are still a rarity.


And so the opening of Banh Mi Bay on the corner of Gray's Inn Road and Theobald's Road, just a short trot from my office on High Holborn, was a very exciting prospect. If they were as good as the example I'd tried all that time ago in Hackney, and were a similar price, I could easily see myself becoming their best customer, gorging myself silly on soft rice flour baguettes and becoming forever the incumbent "mayor" on Foursquare. Sadly, the reality of the new place was far more mundane.


From the first bite, you could tell these were not "authentic" (a meaningless word really but it will have to do) rice flour baguettes, just normal crusty French sticks, meaning my jaw was aching so much before I was even 2/3 through I had to give up. That wasn't the only problem though. Instead of a freshly grilled slice of spiced pork, the protein for this particular banh mi was taken from a pile of pre-sliced processed meat that looked suspiciously like what goes into a Subway. Not very attractive. Sweet pickled carrots were fine, and I did get the odd hit of red chilli, but it was desperately missing some stronger flavours - perhaps some dressing or fish sauce, I can't tell you, but something to lift it out of the ordinary. I am acutely aware that given I've only ever had one of these things previously in my life I can hardly claim to be an authority on the matter, but out of the two, one was delicious and one wasn't.


At £2.80 for quite a large sandwich it was at least cheap, but to be good value it also needed to be worth £2.80, and I really don't think it was. But a side order of summer rolls came with a nice hoi sin sauce and seemed remarkably fresh considering they just lifted it off a shelf when I asked for it, so perhaps there are other items hidden on the quite lengthy menu that are worth exploring. I quite like the idea of the 'shredded caramel pork' banh mi, and of course for eat-in diners only they do a Pho, another good test of a Vietnamese kitchen. So perhaps I will be back, and perhaps I will eventually decide Banh Mi Bay is brilliant. But in the interests of fairness, I have to rate on my first visit, and based on yesterday's lunch, there are better ways to spend your money in Bloomsbury. Chilli Cool is just around the corner, for a start.

5/10

Banh Mi Bay on Urbanspoon

22 comments:

Fernandez & Leluu said...

Seems really good value judging from the menu board - but you are right - test of the kitchen is Pho.

Wish that people who open Vietnamese restaurants would stop underestimating the public - Vietnamese food is not hard to make tasty as all the ingredients speak for themselves. Its a shame the owners can't just set out to make good and real Vietnamese food in the first place! They can only win!

Lizzie said...

A few banh mis I've had had the Vietnamese style luncheon meat which was perfectly fine, as there were other bits of meat in there too. Cheap or not, it looks a bit sad in the picture. Not exactly bursting, is it? Get yourself down Panda Panda in Deptford.

bron said...

I had the grilled pork bun vermicelli salad yesterday and it was really good. Meat was freshly grilled, generous salad, fresh mint, light nuoc mam in a separate tub.

But will now avoid the banh mi!

Mr Noodles said...

I used to work around the corner from here and I have to say that the location next to the Yorkshire Grey is cursed. Various lunch spots have opened there and none seem to last.......

I also concur with F&L and not just for Vietnemese food but for many ethnic cuisines, be brave and you'll be rewarded.

Melanie Seasons said...

That's a shame - I still haven't had a banh mi. I'll certainly avoid this bing my first one!

Helen said...

I've found the luncheon meat to be quite common in banh mi but only in addition to other meats, as Lizzie says. If it didn't make your face fall off with an explosion of flavours and contrasts though, then it's obviously shit. it looks so sad as well, poor pale little sod sat there looking sorry for itself. AVOID! AVOID! Cafe Bay do quite a nice shredded caramel pork one but it is in Camberwell, so just slightly out of your way for work.

Grumbling Gourmet said...

Deeply sad.

Helen, as you mention it above, I'm also a fan of Cafe Bay in Camberwell. It is actually owned by the same people so it's a shame that the first review of their new place doesn't sound as positive.

I'd agree with you on the baguette.. the stall in Broadway market is excellent for that. I also think that the luncheon meat is fairly authentic but the caramel pork in Cafe Bay is so moreish I find it hard to try anything else...

Rich

Mariel Morris said...

Looks really good - would love to try when I visit London! :)

Hugh Wright said...

"It looks so sad as well, poor pale little sod sat there looking sorry for itself."

Helen are you talking about the sandwich or Chris?

catty said...

I've just had my first banh mi from Banh Mi Bay. I had the traditional Viet bread which was much nicer - no sore jaw or cut gums from the crusty baguette :) The grilled pork was nice but totally and utterly overwhelmed by the MASSES of pickled carrot. what was up with that? Anyway for £3 (did they pump up their price already??) it was still a cheap feed and I'm happily slurping away on my avocado smoothie :)

Anonymous said...

I love Vietnamese baguette, my partner and I went in and try it, but after one bite i was so dissapointed because it taste nothing like Vietnamese baguette and they called themself authentic...

My partner try out their Pho, but it taste more MSG than anything else... what can I say, though its cheap but it have to worth the money too, in this case it doesn't.

We live near Hatton Garden and there is a new Vietnamese place called Cafe VN just recently open. For those Pho lover, I would strongly recommend you to go there and taste their Pho then you will know the different...

Overall i would give Banh Mi Bay 4/10...

linda said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
linda said...

My friend and I pop in Banh Mi Bay to try out their baguette and Pho, but we both left with BIG dissapointments.

Their baguette was hard that after 2/3 bites my gum start hurting, their Pho is like they just made it out of packet noodles with loads of MSG... the flavour was nothing authentic and they claim to be authentic, oh please I know when it comes to my food...

What can I say apart from I had it better at Cafe VN which just 5mins walk away from Banh Mi Bay...
For those Pho lovers, i would strongly recommend you to go Cafe VN on Clerkenwell RD and get your Pho fix, its worth the money there... though its cheap but it have to worth that price too and Banh Mi Bay is not worth at all....

linda said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I work in Hatton Garden also so was very excited at the prospect of a Banh Mi shop opening close by the office, as I am a HUGE fan of the banh mi in Broadway Market (Banh Mi 11 and not the crap they sell at Caphe VN at the market).

I have to say, in comparison it was only so-so. The grilled meat was tasty enough, but the banh mi baguette.. hmmmm...

Sooo I went back again for a late lunch to try out something else on the menu- this time they didn't even have any banh mi bread and instead served to me on normal baguette. Which was disappointing to say the least. AND could they please hold back on the chili sauce?! Or at least ask how spicy I'd like it! My tongue nearly burnt off!

Would like to go in to try to Pho one day, but the last 3 times I have walked past they have been closed, even though it says specifically on the door opening times that they should be... at least cross out the times on the door please as it's a bit off-putting.

a_foxie_smile said...

They have the correct type of bread now :) I wrote an entry on my blog at http://a-foxie-smile.livejournal.com/

Anonymous said...

not nice at all, nothing authentic about the banh mi,, meat tasted foul, really processed and service was not good at all, never will go back, i left the place thinking, what on earth did is really eat? Supposed to be pork but smelt foul and looked even worse!!avoid!!!! :(

Andy K said...

Spread the word - City Caphe has opened yesterday on 17 Ironmonger Lane.

No banh mi until next week though...

Joshua Armstrong said...

Went here for the first time on Saturday and they seemed to have upped their baguette game, with a choice of French or Vietnamese. After this review wasn't expecting much from the bread but the one I had was pretty good.

New venture City Caphe had a better banh mi though when I tried it late last week. Still no rice flour but owner said all 5 Vietnames bakers they contacted about recipes don't use rice flour any more. Banh mi had good, thin crunch on crust with a nice light middle, think it will be to your taste. Nice pho and summer rolls too, just a shame it's in the city and I work in Mayfair.

Minh Tran said...

The author of this blog is very ignorant about Vietnamese cuisine. Banh Mi is the Vietnamese word for BREAD. It is not a Vietnamese type of bread nor is it a type of Vietnamese sandwich. If this article was read by Vietnamese people in Vietnam, it would be laughed at.

Anonymous said...

@Minh Tran

I think you're being a little harsh. I'm Vietnamese and in this context - using banh mi to describe bread in England - The writer is obviously referring to Vietnamese bread.

Anonymous said...

This blogger is an idiot. I can't stand people up who are full of self importance.