Bánh Mì at Café Bay.

[Edit: Their shredded caramel pork banh mi is much better than this one. Try it].

I’ve searched for a bánh mì in London (without success) since I first arrived, so I was amazed to find I have been working a measly two minute stroll away from one (Café Bay has five different Vietnamese fillings on the menu), for the last two and a half years.

Café Bay (Camberwell) – Bánh Mì.

Where: 75 Denmark Hill, London, SE5 8RS.
When: 5th Feb – lunchtime.
What: Bánh Mì is a Vietnamese sandwich, featuring contrasting flavours and textures usually including pickled vegetables, chilli, cucumber and spiced meat – in a baguette.

Bread: A bog standard baguette, the really soft kind. Not usually a personal favourite but I liked it for the bánh mì.

Flavour: I thought it only right and proper to go for the ‘Bay Special’, pâté with two kinds of pork – spiced and ‘regular’. So, we have chilli on the bottom, then the spiced meat, then the rich pâté, mayonnaise, crunchy cucumber, fresh coriander and awesome pickled carrot (I was sad when I realised there was no daikon). It’s all about the contrasts. There’s one major problem, but that’s coming next.
Quality: The spiced pork also had huge, tough, rubbery flabs of fat, with a really hard ‘rind’. I’m always up for pork fat but I couldn’t eat it. Shame, because the spicing was tasty. There was also luncheon meat. [Edit: I’ve since come around to luncheon meat – guilty pleasure ahoy. See my SPAM mi]

Quantity: Average lunchtime baguette size.
Textures: Lots of great contrasts, apart from the pork rind/fat stuff.
Spreads/Dressings/Sauces: The combo of mayo and pâté was a bit alien to me at first but I really got into it.
Assembly: Lightning fast and sound. Good even distribution.

Value for Money: £3
Service: The lady who makes the sandwiches smiled and spoke to me for the first time ever when I ordered this – mostly I rock up with a hangover and ask for a bacon butty. I think she was pleased with me.

Overall Score: 6/10

Category: Sandwiches, Sandwiches and The City 18 comments »

18 Responses to “Bánh Mì at Café Bay.”

  1. Christie @ fig&cherry

    I love bahn mi! You’re right, it should definitely have daikon and beansprouts too. Plus the proper Vietnamese vinegary-hot chilli sauce in the bottle with the rooster on it.

  2. Niamh

    OH! Scary, scary meat! What a shame :-( It would be interesting to give this a go.

    Out of curiosity, have you tried Kingsland Rd for this?

    Niamhs last blog post..Savoury Pork Belly, Savoy Cabbage & Noodle Soup

  3. heather

    oh how i love banh mi! i wish there was a good place to buy one in Minneapolis or Milwaukee!



  4. Ginger

    I’ve never heard of banh mi but I really like the sound of the contrasting flavours and textures. The luncheon meatesque style of the pork would have put me off too, what a shame.

    Gingers last blog post..Prawn and Vegetable Gyoza Dumplings with Marinated Carrot and Cucumber Salads

  5. haber


  6. Jonathan

    You’re right the meat does look a bit iffy.

    I’ve been hunting for a Banh Mi for a while too. Weirdly I was going to go to Cafe Bay as well… but instead these places look good. It’s really hard to find anywhere doing these sandwiches in London:

    Pho (Clerkenwell only) – http://www.phocafe.co.uk/?action=app.siteframe

    And Loong Kee Cafe on Kingsland Road – http://www.london-eating.co.uk/4027.htm

  7. Lizzie

    Now, there aint nothing wrong with luncheon meat! I prefer it fried though. You will be introduced to it’s delights soon…

    Lizzies last blog post..Chickpea & Mint Leg of Lamb

  8. Helen

    Christie – I agree! Very sad to not find the daikon in there :(
    Niamh – No, but I’m going to!
    heather – Well if I have a go at making my own, I’ll blog it and then we can both enjoy the delights of banh mi at home..
    Ginger – If I find a good one I will let you know because you will love it!
    Jonathan – Does, doesn’t it? How funny you were going to try cafe Bay! I thought myself and everyone else who works at king’s were the only patrons, like, ever! We are totally on the same sandwich wavelength :)
    Thanks very much for the recs, I will check them out.
    Lizzie – If you are referring to SPAM, then don’t get me wrong – it really is a guilty pleasure of mine too! Can’t wait to try those ramen! This, however, this was a bit dodgy. A bit too dodgy – just the wrong side..

  9. Joie de vivre

    Perhaps the lady was happy to see you sober? :) Sorry the sandwich disappointed.

    Joie de vivres last blog post..February French Friday #1

  10. Julie

    The banh mi you had is perfectly authentic. The regular meat is called cha lua (made by simply processing meat with seasoning ang spices to get the firm texture then cooking and slicing it), the other meat is shoulder sliced up. Mayo, pate and a dribble of Maggi sauce and optional sliced chillis along with cucumber and pickled carrot and coriander complete the baguette.

    Never seen beansprouts, chilli sauce in authentic banh mi before and have just returned from a trip tasting banh mi everywhere I could find in Paris. Saigon sandwich is the best btw, in Belleville.

  11. An American in London

    Having just returned from Paris (where I usually end up eating all the banh mi in sight and agree with Julie that Saigon Sandwich in Belleville is pretty good), I found your post when googling for London banh mi (which I’ve searched for in vain for four years). The version at Pho is really awful – greasy and served with cooked beansprouts.

    The banh mi in the Cafe Bay photo you’ve included doesn’t look half bad. Pate is not my fave, generally, but it’s pretty standard in pork banh mi.

    I heard Loong Kee Cafe was worth a try, and TastyTreats recently tipped me off to Banzi near Canada Water station. So I’m excited to check out these leads.

    An American in Londons last blog post..Le Baratin, Paris

  12. Clare

    Walking home last night I noticed a sign has gone up at 114 Bermondsey Street for a “new Vietnamese Cafe” Following a little further investigation on the SE1 forum, it’s apparently going to be making fresh vietnamese cafe food including banh mi. Looks like it will be opening in the next couple of weeks..I got hooked on these during my SE Asia travels so I’m very excited! I’ll happily report back…you might want to add it to your list!

  13. gurliegurl

    Gosh Helen, you are not a very nice person.
    How are you qualified to know know what a vietnamese banh mi should be like anyway. There are nicer ways to put things.

  14. lily

    saw this article on timeout yesterday about banhmi in London, maybe worth checking out , the banhmi11 picture looks good http://www.timeout.com/london/connect/food+drink/blog/63/from-hanoi-to-hackney

  15. Banh Mi SaiGon

    Ca Phe VN has launched its own Banhmi – Banh Mi SaiGon – every Saturday at the Saigon Street Cafe – Benjamin Close, Broadway Market E8 10-5

    5 pork, traditional Southern style baguette – excellent light bread with cha bong, steamed pork, cha, gammon ham, pate, pickled diakon & carrot, cucumber, spring onion, coriander, gravy, Vietnamese mayonaise & chilli.

    Ca Phe VN 07780784696

  16. The Sophisticated Aesthete

    Hi, just found your blog by googling Vietnamese food in London – I didn’t even know you could get banh mi there! What a very pleasant surprise. Also, nice blog.
    Anyway, I can’t resist the urge to agree with what Julie and An American in London said, being Vietnamese and actually having an aunt who owns a series of banh mi places in Saigon, though I can see how cha lua (or, as we also call it, gio lua) would be not so appealing to someone who isn’t quite sure what it is: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gi%C3%B2_l%E1%BB%A5a .

  17. Helen

    Don’t worry, I’ve come round to it! Keep up people!!!! http://helengraves.co.uk/2010/05/spam-food-of-my-youth/

  18. Julie

    How funny, I made that comment a year and a half ago (#10)!

    I’ve just opened my own little Viet cafe a couple weeks ago where we sell banh mi (amongst other options) in London. It’s taken quite a lot of time and research to get the bread as close as we can to what they have in Vietnam and we have it about right now, light and airy inside with a thin crackly crust.

    It’s a bread not really seen in the UK so we developed our recipe from relatives in Vietnam and its made every morning for us by a very small craft bakery; we’ve had a couple problems with consistency so far but that has been resolved now. It’s not dense and filling as a French baguette and we have all our fillings made fresh each morning onsite.

    We do our Classic which has the cha lua steamed pork roll as raised in your original review and we do offer chilli sauce because everyone asks for it!

    If you’re ever around Bank station please pop in and say hi; this was the very first food blog I ever read and also commented on :)

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