Friday 4 October 2013

Al-Desko Dining: Bahn Mi Bay

The junction of Theobald's and Gray's Inn Roads is not an unnatural place to situate an average sandwich shop selling cheap buns and baguettes to the working masses that horde in and out of the city every day.  So to find a really bloody good sandwich shop selling decently priced and exciting baguettes to those same hordes is a rather more attractive prospect.

Fortunately, that's exactly what you have with Banh Mi Bay.
Banh Mi Bay presents itself as a mid-sized restaurant serving up bowls of steaming pho and other Vietnamese treats, as well as a take-away joint for those of us who need to scramble back to our desks to spend our lunch hours grabbing surreptitious bites between bouts of spreadsheet reviews. 

I can't speak for the former, but judging from the fact that the place was packed and there was a queue virtually out the door, into the rain, for the next available table, I'm guessing it's pretty good at what it does on the sit-in-and-eat front.  The fresh, made-to-order atmosphere, with staff constantly manning an open grill to get patrons meals to them as their cooked, is testament to this.

The other side of the coin is the bánh mi, the French baguettes stuffed with Vietnamese goodies, meats, pickles and fiery hot sauces.  That was the main event for us.

I went with a colleague and we resolved to share a Banh Mi Dac Biet, their special sandwich.  This, it turned out, was a mix of fillings including pork pâté, chả lụa (a sort of mashed, boiled pork sausage, but not really – much, much better than it sounds) and spiced pork.  So a total pig fest, really.  Nowt wrong with that.  Also, to accompany our báhn mi we decided to share a box of prawn spring rolls.  
Starting with the spring rolls, these were great.  Nice, crunchy little numbers accompanied by a very-evidently homemade sweet chili sauce that was not too sweet (but good and spicy!).  A little bit greasy, but not too much so – but then they're deep fried, so they were never going to thoroughly avoid that curse.
Also, as a completely peripheral note, look at that presentation.  I mean, look at it.  Really.  Who does that?  Who goes to that kind of effort for a take away box of spring rolls?  And, you know what? Munching down those little greasy numbers with a side of iceberg lettuce and mind works wonders.

No, my only complaint was that there were only three rolls.  Which can make for an uncomfortable conversation when you're sharing with someone...

Next up is the bánh mi.  This was a revelation.  I'd had rip-offs of this before, but this was just brilliant.  Stuffed full of smokey, spicy pork, perfectly offset with the cucumber, pickles and coriander that keep it company, it’s a real wonder that these little treats haven’t become big news over here already.  The pâté is a masterstroke too: it's rich taste and creamy texture add a certain depth to the dish, without which the sandwich would be all the poorer.

Now, I'm no aficionado of Vietnamese cooking.  In fact, various trips around the world have taken me to many of its various corners, nooks and crannies, but not really to Asia.  Other than a week in Hong Kong a few years ago and a week lined up for next year in Singapore,  I can’t claim to have had much experience.  So I can't tell you if this is authentic.  What I can tell you is that it’s ace.
 - GrubsterBoy -

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