Jack of all trades, but master of none?
Although I may be a fussy eater, I’m not snobbish – I’ll eat in the most humble of establishments as long as the food is good. My search for good Vietnamese food in London lead me to a small breakfast and lunchtime-only café in the backstreets of Southwark near London Bridge.
That makes Caphe House sound more remote than it really is. It’s a mere 10 minute walk from London Bridge station and is located a few doors down from the excellent José. The family-run Caphe House is more of a café than a restaurant – you order at the counter and then take a seat at one of the handful of tables or counter seating (including a few al fresco tables across the road if the weather’s warm enough) where your food is brought to you.
Caphe House is one of the few Vietnamese eateries I know of that serves both Vietnamese sandwiches, or banh mi, as well as noodle soups, or pho. On my first visit I sampled the special banh mi which is filled with pork pate and pork meatloaf. The moist pate was very salty, while the thin slices of pork loaf were suitably meaty and juicy, but both could have benefitted from being paired with something more interesting than mere butter. The pickled cucumber and carrot had a firm bite and there’s lots of fresh coriander. Sadly, the bread itself was far too tough and chewy. When compared to the delightfully fluffy and flavoursome semolina loaves used by New York’s Num Pang, this bargain bin quality bread just isn’t good enough.
The tofu banh mi is served in the same poor quality bread, but also suffers from thin, dry, flavourless slices of fried tofu. Both banh mi are served with an epic helping of a simple carrot and lettuce salad.
On my second visit I took the opportunity to sample the summer rolls as well as the pho. Ominously, the summer roll arrived pre-packed in a plastic container suggesting it had been prepared off-site and then bought in. My fears were well-founded as both the thin rice flour wrap and the generic, unidentifiable meat filling were dry and flavourless. The sweet brown sauce at the bottom of the bowl was the sole saving grace.
The special pho was more pleasing. The fragrant soup was tangy and moreish and was given an extra kick by the fresh chilli and herbs, while the thin, flat noodles had a firm bite. The sliced prawns tasted fresh, but the chunks of chicken and well-done beef were rather bland and ordinary.
I’ve already written about Caphe House’s attempt at a flat white coffee which doesn’t compare to the best flat whites London has to offer. Thankfully Vietnamese-style white coffees, both hot and iced, are also available. They’re not very strong, but they do benefit from the distinctive taste of sweetened condensed milk – an essential ingredient.
I had high hopes for Caphe House, hoping it would fulfil all my hankerings for various Vietnamese dishes in one place, but my hopes were dashed. While the pho are the best I’ve tasted in London so far, the banh mi are flawed and the summer rolls are deplorable. If you happen to be in the London Bridge area around lunchtime then it’s a good enough option, but even then only if you must have Vietnamese food or if the nearby José is packed to the rafters.
Name: Caphe House
Address: 114 Bermondsey Street, London, SE1 3TX
Phone: 020 7403 3574
Opening Hours: Monday-Friday 07.00-17.00; Saturday 08.00-16.00; closed Sundays
Reservations: not taken.
Total cost for one person including soft drink: £10 approx. (you’ll pay less if you’re less of a glutton than I am)