Authentic Vietnamese takeaway bang in the middle of Square Mile
There used to be a time when I would take a bus all the way up Kingsland Road to have a Beef Pho when I craved for Vietnamese (or more generally, good Asian) food for a quick city lunch. That was the time before I discovered City Caphe. Is City Caphe as good as those on Kingsland Road? In all honesty, probably not. But is it good for its location, quality, price and authenticity? Oh hell yes.
2 minutes from Bank Station is Ironmonger Lane. The location can’t be more perfect, right in the middle of the Square Mile, within 10 minutes walk from almost every office in the City. Every lunch time as soon as you enter the small side street, you would see a long lane of people queueing for something. Yes, that’s City Caphe. The restaurant has a number of small tables for customers to eat in, but you would see the majority of them getting a takeaway back to the office.
As a lunch takeaway, the menu is short and sweet, yet long enough for options to go with ones mood. Almost all the Vietnamese classics that you can think of are available. Pho (the classic flat noodles soup), Bun (Vietnamese vermicelli salad), Bánh mì (Vietnamese Baguette), Summer Roll (Vietnamese fresh roll wrap).
On the serving counter, there is always a pile of picture-based books available for customers to flick through whilst waiting. I have only ever spent 10 seconds flicking through the books, and have never seen anyone spending more than a minute reading them (I guess more due to the space constraints more than the interesting factor), but it is certainly sweet and thoughtful of City Caphe.
Bánh mì is a kind of Vientamese baguette, introduced to Vietname back by the French back in its colonial days. There are normally one or two people behind the Bánh mì counter constantly making new baguettes. The size of these baguettes are not big, so for those with bigger appetites may need additional starters to fill the stomach. The baguettes here have a slight crunch to the crust, served with the meat of your choice, pickled carrots, chilli and coriander.
I love beef pho, and it always finish the entire tub of food drinking up every drip of stock. The pho here is not as good and the stock is not as intense as those you would find in a restaurant on Kingsland Road, but it’s almost up there on the list. The stock is clear and tasty, even better after adding the hint of lime and chilli from the self add bits and pieces. The beef slices are thin and tender. Most importantly of all, it is authentic and not fusion’ed up into some random confused watery soup. Personally the beef pho is the best classic, but there are also options for other forms of meat or a spicy soup base.
If I was to be fussy and comment on what annoys me though, are the following little things*. (1) Beef Pho (soup noodles) here are served in a tall paper container. I have a problem with that – it is tall and hard to eat out of (2) soup is served in the same container as the noodles, i.e. It’s fine if you ate in, but not so fine (as you can see in this photo) that by the time you are back in the office, the noodles and soaked up all the soup (3) the flat noodles are not fresh, but made from dried ho fun that normally consumers can easily buy from any Asian supermarkets.
Having said all that, these are minor points and do not stop me from visiting on a craving-for-Asian-food-day, because it’s still the best and most authentic Vietnamese in square mile.
* Note: I don’t know if it’s just me downing every last bit of noodles and stock from the tasty salty beef pho, or if there is a fair amount of MSG in their stock, but I always become very thirsty in the afternoon after a beef pho from here.
Damage to pocket: £6.40 for a beef pho
Number of accumulated visits: 10+
Date of visit: Since 2011
Will we return? Yes, especially when I crave for Asian food