★★★★★ / ★★★★☆ / ★★★☆☆ / ★★☆☆☆ / ★☆☆☆☆ / Vietnamese

The best and worst banh mi in London – Vietnamese sandwiches review

26 eateries, 66 sandwiches, one verdict

Updated 26/2/14 – tweaked Bun Cha review, added a missing photo and added reviews of Chao Kitchen and Chao!Now
Updated 05/3/14 – added review of Bep Haus, tweaked The Verdict slightly to reflect its inclusion
Updated 12/3/14 – added review of Miss Chu
Updated 13/7/14 – added reviews of An, KP Banh Mi, Ladudu and Sticky Beaks

Pho, or beef noodle soup, is the dish most commonly known Vietnamese dish but there’s another that deserves just as much attention and love – the humble banh mi. A baguette filled with pickled vegetables, coriander and meat doesn’t sound tricky to make or distinctive enough to seek out, but this sandwich can be uniquely delicious when done right. My criteria for a good banh mi are straightforward:

  • A crisp, fresh baguette – preferably one made from rice flour as well as wheat. This makes the baguette crisper, airier, but also a little drier. Obviously, the baguette should also hold everything together and not fall apart or be overstuffed.
  • Tart pickled vegetables – carrots, cucumbers, radishes etc. plus a smattering of fresh coriander and some mayo. Kewpie mayonnaise is often used here. All of this should act as a counterbalance to the following-
  • Meaty filling – I typically prefer caramelised, smoky grilled pork with cha lua, a steamed pork roll/loaf that’s smooth and milky at its best, along with a pork or chicken pate. The pate should be coarse, fluffy, salty and a little spicy. I’m partial to other fillings of course – catfish, tofu, roast duck and meatballs, for example, are a little unusual but all perfectly acceptable.

A good balance between all three elements is the name of the game here. The perfect drink for washing down a Vietnamese sandwich has to be a Vietnamese coffee – chocolatey and served with just enough sweet, viscous condensed milk.

I strove to visit every London restaurant, cafe and market stall that serves banh mi during the past couple of months. Since we’re talking about sandwiches here, most of the places listed are only open at lunchtime, but a few are also open for dinner and I’ve noted this in the individual reviews below. One restaurant you won’t find reviewed here is Thanh Binh in Camden. Although the hoardings outside advertise banh mi, the sandwiches have never been available on any of the multiple occasions that I’ve dropped by. When I’ve inquired by phone, the staff deny that banh mi are even on the menu. If Thanh Binh ever get their act together, then I may include them here in an update.

If I’ve missed your favourite, then let me know in the Comments. If I don’t like your favourite, don’t get huffy – it’s not the end of the world.

Table of Contents (you can open each link in a separate tab if you prefer)

An
Aobaba
Banh Mi 11
Banh Mi Bay
Banh Mi Hoi An
Banh Mi Saigon
Bep Haus
Bun Cha
Caphe House
Chao Kitchen
Chao Now
Chi
City Caphe
Keu
KP Banh Mi
Ladudu
Miss Chu
OA Com Tam
Panda Panda
Pho Express
Sen Viet
Sticky Beaks
Velo
Vieteat
Viet Cafe (formerly Cafe Bay)
Walk Thru

 

An

The simply named Ăn (‘eat’ in Vietnamese, apparently) is one of the few Vietnamese eateries in Woolwich which is a little odd considering the much larger number available in nearby Deptford. As far as I can tell rice flour baguettes aren’t available at An – only bog standard brown or white baguettes are on offer.

The Viet Special is filled mostly with meaty slices of roast pork and thin slices of steamed pork with the chewy rinds still attached. I could have done with more of the mildly coarse and creamy pate, but there was plenty of tart, briney pickled vegetables and punchy chillies.

Viet special banh mi from an woolwich

Viet special banh mi from An

The bean curd used in the tofu banh mi was warm from the pan and very fresh – milky and slightly sweet with the distinct, unmistakable taste of soya. It was enhanced further by the same pickled vegetables and chillies that accompanied the Viet Special.

tofu banh mi from an woolwich

tofu banh mi from An

I wasn’t expecting much from the spiced chicken variant, but it turned out to be surprisingly good. The warm chunks of chicken weren’t made from reconstituted meat and had a mildly garlicky flavour to them as well as the taste of soy sauce. The chicken itself was hardly spicy though with the heat coming instead from the fiery chillies.

spiced chicken vietnamese sandwich from an woolwich

spiced chicken banh mi from An

The avocado was the most unusual banh mi at An and, surprisingly, also the most filling. The large creamy chunky slices of fruit really hit the spot and its mild sweetness wasn’t overwhelmed by either the chilli slices or the pickled vegetables.

avocado vietnamese baguette from an woolwich

avocado bahn mi from An

An’s Vietnamese coffee is available in both hot and iced versions. Served hot, it was creamy and surprisingly buttery which was odd but still very palatable. It packed a reasonable kick too. Served iced, the coffee was nutty and chocolaty, although the sweetness of the condensed milk was surprisingly muted.

vietnamese coffee from an woolwich

Vietnamese coffee from An

iced vietnamese coffee from an woolwich

iced Vietnamese coffee from An

Although An would do well to invest in better bread, its banh mi are still surprisingly good and is far more satisfying than the sandwiches available from its relatively neighbour Panda Panda.

Average cost per sandwich: £4

Rating★★★★☆

 

Aobaba

The now closed Wood Green branch of this odd mini-chain of Vietnamese supermarkets-cum-diners was a disappointment, but things have moved on since then with the banh mi at the Elephant and Castle branch noticeably improved.

All the banh mi I tried used exceedingly soft and fluffy baguettes that were also slightly chewy, but not disastrously so. The Classic Saigon was generously stuffed with thick slices of milky smooth pork roll, as well as some insipid shreds of carrot and coriander. The dollop of pate may have been small, but it was lip-pursingly salty and fishy. A slightly less flesh-preserving level of saltiness would be preferable.

classic saigon banh mi at aobaba elephant and castle

Classic Saigon banh mi at Aobaba Elephant and Castle

close up of classic saigon banh mi at aobaba elephant and castle

The Vietnamese cookery show projected on a wall and played on a loop at the Elephant and Castle branch was surprisingly watchable.

The beef stew banh mi was served very differently from almost all the other sandwiches here. The stew was served separately in a bowl and it’s up to you to stuff the baguette yourself. It’s well worth doing though – the exceedingly tender chunks of beef shin and jelly-like tendons were very moreish, especially when taken with a gulp of the thin, mildly tangy sauce and soft, sweet carrots. Stuffing the baguette can get a little messy given the surprisingly generous helping of stew, but I can definitely live with that.

beef stew at aobaba elephant and castle

beef stew at Aobaba Elephant and Castle

beef stew with baguette at aobaba elephant and castle

beef stew with baguette at Aobaba Elephant and Castle

I wasn’t expecting much from the Vietnamese coffee here, so I was pleasantly surprised by the malty, chocolatey taste and the measured sweetness of the condensed milk. All of this made it very balanced and eminently drinkable.

vietnamese coffee at aobaba elephant and castle

Vietnamese coffee at Aobaba Elephant and Castle

Prawn loaf grilled on skewers of sugar cane is a classic Vietnamese dish and here it’s been used as a banh mi filling. The overall effect was of a takeaway prawn toast inverted in on itself – the smooth, lightly salty prawn loaf tasted more like a fish ball or prawn toast than an actual crustacean, but this was still perfectly edible as a guilty pleasure. The heap of limp carrots was of little use, but the creamy mayo and piquant sliced chillies suited the prawn loaf well.

grilled shrimp banh mi at aobaba elephant and castle

grilled shrimp banh mi at Aobaba Elephant and Castle

The lemongrass flavour of the grilled pork banh mi variant was surprisingly strong. Complimented by crisp spring onions and fiery chillies, the bold lemongrass flavour livened up what would otherwise have been rather unremarkable strips of soft pork.

chargrilled lemongrass and sesame pork baguette at aobaba elephant and castle

chargrilled lemongrass and sesame pork baguette at Aobaba Elephant and Castle

Like the beef stew variant above, the chicken curry banh mi is served with the curry and baguette separate from each other. Spooning the chicken into the bread wasn’t too difficult despite the thinness of the runny sauce. Although the chunks of tender potato and chicken were cut from whole pieces rather than reconstituted, the bland, insipid sauce robbed this dish of much of its pleasure.

chicken curry with baguette at aobaba elephant and castle

chicken curry with baguette at Aobaba Elephant and Castle

A range of mock meat fillings is available for vegetarians. The mock roast pork was almost certainly made out of seitan, a gluten-based meat substitute that has a surprisingly long pedigree in Chinese and Vietnamese cuisine. It had the texture and appearance of lamb doner meat, but tasted slightly sweet and garlicky. I’m not quite sure what to make of this oddity.

close up of mock roast pork banh mi at aobaba elephant and castle

close up of mock roast pork banh mi at Aobaba Elephant and Castle

Aobaba’s banh mi aren’t perfect, but they’re definitely among the better ones you can get in London plus they’re much improved over their previous incarnations.

Average cost per sandwich: £5

Rating: ★★★★☆

 

Banh Mi 11

This market stall used to be my go-to place for Vietnamese baguettes, but standards seem to be slipping judging from my most recent visit to the Berwick Street stall. The once superlative Imperial BBQ Pork baguette was no longer quite as superb, but it was still pretty good. The pork was a little dry and lacked the caramelised sweetness it used to have, but it was still reasonably sweet, salty and a little smoky. The pickled vegetables left me cold, but the squirt of punchy hot sauce made up for it. The baguette was reasonably crisp, but lacked the lightness of the baguettes sometimes found at Banh Mi Bay.

imperial bbq pork sandwich from banh mi 11

Imperial BBQ pork sandwich from Banh Mi 11

Out of curiosity and a misplaced sense of thoroughness, I visited the Shoreditch cafe location and sampled the crackling pork belly. There wasn’t any crackling though, just mildly fatty cubes of very mildly sweet and caramelised pork in the same baguette and with the same pickled vegetables as before.

crackling pork belly baguette at banh mi 11 shoreditch

crackling pork belly baguette at Banh Mi 11 Shoreditch

close up of crackling pork belly baguette at banh mi 11 shoreditch

close up of crackling pork belly baguette at Banh Mi 11 Shoreditch

The condensed milk used in the iced Vietnamese coffee was reasonably sweet, but the coffee as a whole was too bland and watery.

iced vietnamese coffee at banh mi 11 shoreditch

iced Vietnamese coffee at Banh Mi 11 Shoreditch

Banh Mi 11 used to be the bee’s knees, but it’s now merely second best.

Average cost per sandwich: £5

Rating: ★★★☆☆

 

Banh Mi Bay

Banh Mi Bay has two locations – a small diner near Holborn, that’s open for both lunch and dinner, and a lunch-only take away joint in Fitzrovia. Rice flour baguettes aren’t always available, but they’re well worth having when they are – they’re far softer and fluffier than the hearty but dull brown baguettes and the stodgy, chewy white baguettes. All of the baguettes I tried came filled with refreshingly tart pickled vegetables and plenty of coriander.

The Bay Special consists of smooth pork roll and a lightly spiced cured ham. The dominant flavour, however, was of the moderately coarse pate – musky and salty with hints reminiscent of fish sauce and shrimp paste. It’s a true delight and although the pate isn’t included by default in most of the other sandwiches, it can be added for a few pence more and it’s well worth doing so.

bay special baguette at banh mi bay

Bay Special baguette at Banh Mi Bay

close up of bay special baguette at banh mi bay

close up of Bay Special baguette at Banh Mi Bay

The spiced pork variant uses pig flesh that’s smooth, sweetly caramelised and slightly fatty, but the taste of the pickled vegetables and coriander easily dominates this sandwich.

spiced pork baguette at banh mi bay

spiced pork baguette at Banh Mi Bay

close up of spiced pork baguette at banh mi bay

close up of spiced pork baguette at Banh Mi Bay

The caramelised shredded pork option was generally bland. Vague hints of sweetness and meatiness were blotted out by the bread and pickled vegetables.

shredded caramel pork baguette from banh mi bay

shredded caramel pork baguette from Banh Mi Bay

close up of shredded caramel pork baguette from banh mi bay

close up of shredded caramel pork baguette from Banh Mi Bay

For vegetarians, the tofu banh mi uses squidgy tofu doused in a musky, earthy marinade that makes up for the relatively small, bitty slices of tofu.

tofu sandwich from banh mi bay

tofu sandwich from Banh Mi Bay

Banh Mi Bay’s coffee, whether hot or iced, tends to be very milky and sweet, with little taste of the coffee itself.

iced vietnamese coffee from banh mi bay

iced Vietnamese coffee from Banh Mi Bay

Banh Mi Bay’s sandwiches aren’t perfect, but the quality of the Classic stands above the rest.

Average cost per sandwich: £5.50

Rating: ★★★★☆

Banh Mi Bay on Urbanspoon

 

Banh Mi Hoi An

Located around the corner from Hackney’s local Iceland, Banh Mi Hoi An is a small place mainly built for take aways – there are only three uncomfortable window seats for eating in. I’m not quite sure if the freshly toasted baguettes use rice flour or not, but they’re crisp and fluffy nonetheless. All of the sandwiches have a good spread of mayo, fresh coriander and some rather ordinary pickled vegetables.

The amusingly-named Coldplay combines thin slices of milky meat loaf and pork belly, but there’s not much of the latter. There is a light dab of creamy, meaty pate though which makes up for it. The pork belly-only sandwich is essentially identical, but without the pork loaf and with more pork belly which turned out to be mildly caramelised. The belly really needed more fat, but the pate made up for its absence.

coldplay baguette at banh mi hoi an

Coldplay baguette at Banh Mi Hoi An

coldplay closeup at banh mi hoi an

Coldplay closeup at Banh Mi Hoi An

pork belly baguette at banh mi hoi an

pork belly baguette at Banh Mi Hoi An

Banh Mi Hoi An’s pork-less sandwiches are far better. The version filled with beef balls has the benefit of a lightly creamy sauce generously flavoured with lemongrass which compliments the generous helping of smooth, occasionally coarse beef balls very well. Thankfully, the amount of sauce was just right – enough to tickle the taste buds, but not so much as to dribble everywhere.

curry meatball baguette at banh mi hoi an

curry meatball baguette at Banh Mi Hoi An

The catfish baguette was far better than I expected. The catfish was tender, flaky, earth and lightly spicy – a far cry from the bland stodge that would’ve been so easy to serve up in its place.

catfish baguette at banh mi hoi an

catfish sandwich at Banh Mi Hoi An

The tofu isn’t a second rate option either. Thick slices of wrinkly, squidgy tofu were dressed in a moreish tomato and lemongrass sauce which also emphasised the tartness of the pickled vegetables.

close up of tofu baguette at banh mi hoi an

close up of tofu baguette at Banh Mi Hoi An

Banh Mi Hoi An’s coffee had a reasonably strong kick to it, but there was so much condensed milk that it drowned out the taste of whatever coffee was in there.

vietnamese coffee at banh mi hoi an

Vietnamese coffee at Banh Mi Hoi An

Banh Mi Hoi An’s pork baguettes may be only so-so and heavily reliant on pate, but the other banh mi are excellent. They’re also easily the most generously sized sandwiches here. Hackney residents should count themselves very lucky indeed.

Average cost per sandwich: £5.50

Rating: ★★★★★

Banh Mi Hoi-An on Urbanspoon

 

Banh Mi Saigon

Banh Mi Saigon is a tiny little Barbican store front with only a handful of window seats and is located just down the road from both Morgan M and Dose. The baguettes were crisp, soft and light. If they’re not rice flour baguettes, than they’re doing a very good impersonation. Sadly, the pickled veg barely had any tartness.

The honey BBQ pork was tender and reasonably moist, but only had a mild, rather forgettable soy sauce-style saltiness to it rather than the charred sweetness you might expect from the name.

honey barbecue pork baguette at banh mi saigon

honey BBQ pork baguette at Banh Mi Saigon

The baguette stuffed with spiced pork and pork roll had more of the latter than it did of the former. In fact, there was a vanishingly small amount of spiced pork, with the lightly sweet and tangy pork roll taking centre stage instead. It was pleasing, but there was only a mild smearing of the musky, earthy pate.

spiced pork and pork roll baguette at banh mi saigon

spiced pork and pork roll baguette at Banh Mi Saigon

The iced Vietnamese coffee was a lightly sweet, rather watery affair that didn’t leave much of an impression.

iced vietnamese coffee at banh mi saigon

iced Vietnamese coffee at Banh Mi Saigon

Banh Mi Saigon’s sandwiches aren’t bad, but they can’t compare to the best of the rest. For time-pressed Barbican and City folks only.

Average cost per sandwich: £3

Rating: ★★★☆☆

 

Bep Haus

Bep Haus is owned by the same people behind Banh Mi 11, but the sandwiches at this City joint couldn’t be more different. At lunchtime there are just three, slightly unusual banh mi: crackling pork belly with pate, a mushroom medley and salmon with toasted sesame. They all used very crisp, satisfyingly crunchy baguettes.

vietnamese sandwich at bep haus

Vietnamese sandwich at Bep Haus

There wasn’t much pate in the pork baguette, but the pork belly made up for its absence. Although the meat was arguably slightly too tough, the crunchy crackling, unctuous layers of fat and occasional spicy hit were immensely satisfying. The pickled vegetables weren’t very tart, but their crisp presence was still welcome as a refreshing counterpoint to the relatively heavy pork.

close-up of crackling pork belly banh mi at bep haus

close-up of crackling pork belly banh mi at Bep Haus

Unlike other banh mi vendors where the vegetarian option is tofu, Bep Haus uses taut, slippery, slightly herby and earthy ‘shrooms instead. For once, the timid tartness of the pickled vegetables was welcome as it would otherwise have overwhelmed the comparatively delicate mushrooms. Pleasing.

close up of mushroom banh mi at bep haus

close up of mushroom banh mi at Bep Haus

The salmon and toasted sesame variant was unexpectedly good too. The meaty pieces of fresh, zingy salmon had a peppery spicy flavour also reminiscent of ginger. It was a pleasing and distinctive taste complimented well by the refreshing veg.

close up of salmon and toasted sesame banh mi at bep haus

close up of salmon and toasted sesame banh mi at Bep Haus

I wasn’t expecting much from the Vietnamese coffee, especially given its excessively foamy appearance. Although it lacked the viscous sweetness of condensed milk, I was still pleased by its caramel-esque character which manifested itself whether the coffee was served hot or iced.

vIetnamese coffee at bep haus

VIetnamese coffee at Bep Haus

iced vIetnamese coffee at bep haus

iced VIetnamese coffee at Bep Haus

Bap Haus’ inventive banh mi are a little different from the others here, but they’re nonetheless very good and well worth seeking out. However, given my experiences with Banh Mi 11, I do have concerns about whether the kitchen will be able to maintain its current high standards – never mind improve on them. For now though, if you’re in the City and fancy a Vietnamese sandwich then Bep Haus is a far better bet than City Caphe.

Average cost per sandwich: £4.50

Star rating: ★★★★☆

 

Bun Cha

According to some sources Bun Cha has now closed, but that’s not the case – this Exmouth Market lunchtime cafe is very much open.  It’s hard to tell what Bun Cha’s coffee, whether iced or hot, tastes like given that the sweet and slightly viscous condensed milk obscures much of its character.

iced vietnamese coffee at bun cha

iced Vietnamese coffee at Bun Cha

vietnamese coffee at bun cha

Vietnamese coffee at Bun Cha

Although Bun Cha’s roast duck banh mi isn’t as good as the one at Keu, nor is it as large, it’s still pretty decent. The moist, mildly fatty slices of meat have a supple layer of skin, the sweetness of which was enhanced by the plum sauce. There’s no pickled vegetables here, just cucumber slices and lettuce. Although rice flour baguettes aren’t available it didn’t taste like it was made from rice flour, the pointy-tipped baguette used here was crisp and malty (Update 17/2/14  – see Bun Cha’s response to this review in the comments).

duck banh mi at bun cha

duck banh mi at Bun Cha

close up of duck banh mi at bun cha

close up of duck banh mi at Bun Cha

Bun Cha’s Special Banh Mi allegedly contains grilled pork, barbecued pork, pate and pork roll, but in reality the dominant filling here was the grilled pork. There was only a hint of smooth and creamy pate with barely any pork roll. At least the grilled pork was pretty good – tender, lightly smoky and sweet. The sliced veg wasn’t pickled, but the baguette was better than before – crispy and soft, if quite dry.

special banh mi at bun cha

Special banh mi at Bun Cha

close up of special banh mi at bun cha

close up of Special banh mi at Bun Cha

The vegetarian sweet chilli tofu option used the same quality baguette as the Special and was filled with bready yet light, soft and tart bean curd. Surprisingly, it did indeed have a mild spicy kick that suited the tartness of the tofu nicely.

tofu baguette at bun cha

tofu baguette at Bun Cha

Bun Cha’s banh mi are solid, but they could be even better with a little more finesse and care.

Average cost per sandwich: £5

Rating: ★★★☆☆

 

Caphe House

I’ve reviewed Caphe House before and concluded that their banh mi were merely okay. This judgment hasn’t improved much following a more recent visit – if anything it’s dipped. The bargain basement baguettes haven’t changed much. Although moist slices of roast pork and pork roll were used in the Special, it was hard to appreciate the meat as they were smothered by the excessive tartness of the pickled vegetables. A few scattered slices of chilli pepper and a light smearing of earthy pate was a poor consolation prize.

special banh mi at caphe house

Special banh mi at Caphe House

close up of special banh mi at caphe house

close up of Special banh mi at Caphe House

Caphe House’s Vietnamese iced coffee started out well with a chocolatey, creamy taste but it ended on an excessively bitter note.

iced vietnamese coffee at caphe house

iced Vietnamese coffee at Caphe House

Caphe House‘s banh mi wasn’t awful, but it just hasn’t kept pace with the better Vietnamese sandwiches in this city.

Average cost per sandwich: £5

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

 

Chao Kitchen

Chao Kitchen is, far as I can tell, unrelated to the similarly-named Chao!Now. Recommended by @antoniabance on Twitter, this Old Street lunchtime-only place fills up quickly during the midday rush so a takeaway will probably be your best bet. The baguettes used here were fluffy, thick and soft. They’re perfectly noshable, but I do miss the crisp warmth of the rice flour baguettes available elsewhere.

Sadly, the Classic 4 Pork is apparently no longer available but the barbecue lemongrass pork option is a good alternative. The grilled swine flesh tasted more of garlic than lemongrass and didn’t have the sweetness of caramelisation, but it was moist and meaty enough. The hefty serving of meat was complimented well by the slices of bird’s eye chillies which packed quite a punch, but the barely-pickled carrot and cabbage daubed with mayo tasted more like a faintly-exotic coleslaw.

chao kitchen baguette sandwich

Chao Kitchen banh mi

lemongrass pork banh mi at chao kitchen

lemongrass pork banh mi at Chao Kitchen

Chao Kitchen’s duck filling was moist and moderately fatty. It didn’t have as much depth of flavour as Keu’s duck, but it was better than the slightly drier duck available at Bun Cha. Although the tame pickled vegetables still lacked the tart punchiness I’d expect, they did provide a much needed refreshing counterpoint to the relatively heavy meat.

duck banh mi at chao kitchen

duck banh mi at Chao Kitchen

Vegetarians will be pleased by the tofu variant. The light, soft, bready tofu was filling and had a tartness that made up for the staid pickled veg.

tofu banh mi at chao kitchen

tofu banh mi at Chao Kitchen

Chao Kitchen’s banh mi can’t match those from the nearby Keu, but they’re still pretty good. Plus, the queues here are shorter and move more quickly than those at Keu so if you’re in a serious rush this place is a better bet.

Average cost per sandwich: £4.50

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Chao Kitchen on Urbanspoon

 

Chao!Now

The oddly-punctuated Chao!Now has two branches aimed at hurried office workers, one near St. Paul’s and another in Farringdon. The latter is a very small takeaway-oriented place with less than half a dozen seats. The Vietnamese coffee was large, but this very generic brew had only a vague hint of sweet condensed milk.

vietnamese coffee at chao now

Vietnamese coffee at ChaoNow

The small kitchen cheated slightly by toasting the baguette. It was certainly crisp on the outside, but much fluffier and softer on the inside. If a rice flour baguette was used, then colour me surprised.  Reasonably thick slices of milky pork roll were joined by slices of char siu pork, although these red tinged pieces tasted more like steamed pork with their fatty, slightly chewy rinds, thinly sliced smoothness and general blandness. There was a faint hint of creamy pate, but not enough to leave a lasting impression. Even less impressive were the vegetables – the large heap of carrots were slightly tart at best and joined by a smothering of limp coriander. Dotted in amongst it all was the occasional slice of muted bird’s eye chilli.

classic banh mi at chaonow

Classic banh mi at ChaoNow

close up of classic banh mi at chaonow

close up of Classic banh mi at ChaoNow

Average cost per sandwich: £4.20

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Chao Now on Urbanspoon

 

Chi

Having taken over the premises formerly occupied by Cafe Bebek, Chi is thankfully better at serving up banh mi than Cafe Bebek was at cooking up burritos. Although the Classic used a bog standard baguette, the filling paired sweet, mildly caramelised slices of grilled pork with an earthy and moderately coarse pate. There was plenty of coriander and vegetables, but sadly none of them were pickled and the entire thing was a bit on the small side.

classic banh mi from chi

Classic banh mi from Chi

close up of classic banh mi from chi

close up of Classic banh mi from Chi

Chi’s iced coffee was moderately chocolatey and a little silky with a very mild kick. Not a bad effort.

vietnamese coffee from chi

Vietnamese coffee from Chi

Chi’s banh mi aren’t bad, but Banh Mi Bay serves up far superior Vietnamese baguettes and is only a short walk away. Chi does have the benefit of some counter and outdoor seating though, while Banh Mi Bay is takeaway only.

Average cost per sandwich: £5

Rating: ★★★☆☆

 

City Caphe

Somewhat surprisingly for a City cafe, City Caphe doesn’t accept credit or debit cards. There are around half a dozen tables or so, but these fill up quickly so be prepared for a takeaway.

City Caphe’s eponymous drink wasn’t up to much. The iced version consisted mostly of sweet and creamy condensed milk and lots of ice with sod all coffee.

iced vietnamese coffee at city caphe

iced Vietnamese coffee at City Caphe

The Classic pork baguette is stuffed with a generous helping of roast pork and thinly sliced pork roll, but both were bland. The pickled veg and pea-sized helping of pate didn’t taste of much either. Only the surprisingly hot slices of bird’s eye chillies livened things up, but even this couldn’t make up for the so-so baguette.

classic pork banh mi at city caphe

Classic pork banh mi at City Caphe

The version filled with chargrilled pork was a little better. Although it had the same forgettable bread, vegetables and pate, the mildly caramelised pork was sweet but it was also very dry.

chargrilled pork banh mi at city caphe

chargrilled pork banh mi at City Caphe

City Caphe is clearly taking its captive audience for a ride. Unacceptable.

Average cost per sandwich: £6

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

City Càphê on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

 

Keu

A lot of my dining companions have a knee-jerk, irrational dislike of Shoreditch, but I like this misunderstood corner of London and one of the reasons is Keu. Located just across the road from the original Cay Tre, I’m fairly certain the two share the same owner. In any case, the banh mi are delicious. In all but one of my sandwiches, the baguettes were crispy and light – the odd one out was crunchier, but still far fluffier than many other baguettes here. All were packed with fresh coriander, fiery bird’s eye chillies and crisp, sharp vegetables.

The Classic pairs a meaty slice of sweet, caramelised pork and a small amount of mildly musky and earthy yet light chicken liver pate. It’s all complimented nicely by the potent chillies, but I’d happily pay more for an extra helping of the scrumptious pate.

classic banh mi from keu

Classic banh mi from Keu

close up of classic banh mi from keu

close up of Classic banh mi from Keu

The pork belly banh mi was the one blighted by a crunchy baguette and this was a shame, as it got in the way of appreciating the crisp crackling and the fatty, tender pork. If there was ever an example of why good bread is key to a good banh mi, then this would be it.

pork belly banh mi at keu

pork belly banh mi at Keu

Duck doesn’t turn up often in Vietnamese sandwiches, but Keu’s version is a corker. The hearty portion of tender, moist, fatty poultry also benefitted from a supple, sweet, lightly soy salty skin that would easily be good enough to serve on its own at twice the price.

roast duck banh mi from keu

roast duck banh mi from Keu

Beef brisket is another unusual banh mi filling, but it worked to great effect here. The tender, earthy and musky brisket went down a storm with the spicy bird’s eye chillies.

beef brisket banh mi at keu

beef brisket banh mi at Keu

The kimchi pork variant didn’t come together well. Although the tender, mildly fatty pork was a treat, as was the tart and spicy kimchi, the strong taste of the latter tended to obscure the former.

kimchee pork baguette at keu

kimchee pork baguette at Keu

kimchi pork banh mi at keu

kimchi pork banh mi at Keu

The only real disappointment was the weak, watery Vietnamese coffee, but that aside Keu serves up some of the best banh mi I’ve had in London. Plus, it’s open in the evenings too.

iced vietnamese coffee at keu

iced Vietnamese coffee at Keu

Average cost per sandwich: £6

Rating: ★★★★

Kêu! on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

 

KP Banh Mi

This market stall occasionally appears at various London markets, such as the one hosted by the Vibe Bar in Shoreditch. The pork banh mi wasn’t very impressive though. This was no fault of the cubes of pork, which were fatty and mildly sweet, but due to the hard, chewy bread and meagre toppings of just lettuce and cucumber. It’s barely a banh mi at all.

pork vietnamese sandwich from kp banh mi

pork Vietnamese baguette from KP Banh Mi

Average cost per sandwich: £5

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

 

Ladudu

West Hampstead’s Ladudu is open all day serving a wide spread of Vietnamese dishes, but banh mi is only available at lunch times. The pork option pairs mildly sweet caramelised pork shreds with milky pork roll, but it’s hard to appreciate either due to the punch of the sweet chilli sauce. The sauce is especially annoying in other ways – it dribbles everywhere and isn’t even necessary for a spicy hit anyway, as there are plenty of green chilli slices in this sandwich. The bread was inconsistent – very crisp in places, but also a little too chewy and soft in others.

pork vietnamese sandwich from la du du

pork banh mi from Ladudu

The tofu and mushroom banh mi used the same inconsistent baguette as the pork version. The tofu was light and bready, while the mushrooms were earthy, taut and slippery. However, the mass of mushrooms obscured the tofu, while the excessive amount of sweet chilli sauce that blighted the pork banh mi made a repeat appearance here.

mushroom and tofu vietnamese baguette from la du du

Not mush room in here.

Ladudu’s banh mi may be flawed, but it does at least have an interesting selection of soft drinks. The Vietnamese coffee had a pleasingly rounded bitterness with a strong kick, although the taste of condensed milk was muted at best.

vietnamese coffee from la du du

Vietnamese coffee from Ladudu

An avocado milkshake sounds odd, but the sweet creaminess of avocado is well-suited for the icy thick slurpiness of a shake. Refreshing.

avocado milkshake from la du du

avocado milkshake from Ladudu

Ladudu’s banh mi have some great fillings stifled by suspect sauce choices and iffy bread. A few tweaks, nips and tucks could produce some sterling sandwiches, but for now it’s merely okay.

Average cost per sandwich: £5-6

Rating: ★★★☆☆

La du du on Urbanspoon

 

Miss Chu

The Australian proprietor of Miss Chu is easily irritable – upset her at your peril. If you’re not put off by the possibility of some passive-aggressive mumbling behind your back, then this small Aldgate cafe, or ‘tuck shop’ as it insists on calling itself, is worth a visit. It’s cramped but there are some thoughtful touches, such as the smartphone chargers at every table.

The banh mi are a bit on the small side and the baguettes used, while fluffy, weren’t quite as crisp as I would have liked. The relatively flaccid bread was disappointing, but not fatally so. There are only two banh mi available here, a pork version and a vegetarian variant. Both are accompanied by moderately fiery slices of chilli as well as pleasingly vinegary slices of cucumber and carrot.

banh mi at miss chu

No soup for you!

The reasonably thick slices of pork were tender and mildly fatty, if a touch bland. In a similar vein, the pate was creamy but lacking in the salty, earthy character of some of the other pates here. The spicy heat of the chilli slices and the tartness of the pickled vegetables were therefore much needed.

close up of pork banh mi at miss chu

You’re pushing your luck little man.

Surprisingly, the vegetarian variant was far better. Instead of tofu, a folded, layered omelette was paired with chunks of avocado. The creaminess of the avocado was a good match for the slightly sweet herbiness of the omelette layers, while the chillies and pickled veg provided a nice bit of contrast in both taste and texture.

close up of avocado and omelette banh mi at miss chu

Come back one year! Next!

There wasn’t a whole lot of condensed milk in Miss Chu’s Vietnamese coffee, but the pleasingly rounded bitterness of the coffee and its reasonably strong kick more than made up for this.

vietnamese coffee at miss chu

What is this? You’re kissing in my line? Nobody Kisses In My Line!

Vegetarians will find a lot to like in Miss Chu’s avocado and omelette banh mi, untraditional a filling as this may be. The classic pork version needs some refinement though, but the promise is there.

Average cost per sandwich: £6

Rating: ★★★☆☆

MissChu on Urbanspoon

 

OA Com Tam

A newcomer to Holloway Road, OA Com Tam serves up several Vietnamese dishes besides banh mi. As a result, the sandwiches are clearly an afterthought. The small, soft, slightly chewy baguettes were unimpressive, but at least the pickled vegetables were very tart and the chillies packed a punch too.

The fillings I tried were underwhelming. The tofu was soft, squidgy and sweet, but the thin slices were too bitty and the sweet marinade tended to trickle out of the sandwich and down my hand. The pork version used thin slices of pork roll and grilled pig, but both were bland – the latter not helped by the almost complete absence of fat.

pork baguette at oa com tam

pork baguette at OA Com Tam

tofu banh mi at at oa com tam

tofu banh mi at at OA Com Tam

The Vietnamese coffee, available either hot or on ice, was better. Chocolatey, slightly bitter and with just the right amount of condensed milk. Shame about the sandwiches though.

vietnamese coffee at oa com tam

Vietnamese coffee at OA Com Tam

Average cost per sandwich: £4.10

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

 

Panda Panda

The previously missing banh mi have since reappeared on the menu at this small Deptford cafe.  Disappointingly though, the bread used was tough and chewy which made for monotonous eating. The sliced chillies and coriander weren’t up to much, while the dull and lifeless pickled vegetables were livened up only by the addition of some very salty fish sauce.

The originally named Banh Mi Vietnam was stuffed with a reasonably generous portion of smooth and milky pork roll, although the addition of thinly sliced steamed pork was an odd one. Apart from a slightly sweet and chewy rind, the steamed pork was very bland. I could’ve done with more of the smooth and creamy pate.

vietnam banh mi at panda panda

Yes, you can buy Panda Panda t-shirts.

Surprisingly, the grilled pork belly was far better. Although lacking in fat, the strips of salty and sweet, lightly caramelised pork were pleasingly moreish which was emphasised by the dusting of crushed peanuts and dabs of mayo.

grilled pork belly baguette at panda panda

grilled pork belly baguette at Panda Panda

The Vietnamese coffee was a bland disappointment though. Not only was the coffee itself tasteless, the mildly creamy condensed milk wasn’t very sweet and even lacked any hint of the viscousness I’d expect from condensed milk.

iced vietnamese coffee at panda panda

iced Vietnamese coffee at Panda Panda

Panda Panda has a cute name and mascot. It also has surprisingly little competition, at least when it comes to banh mi, from Deptford’s other Vietnamese eateries which explains why it’s treading water with its more disappointing sandwiches.

Average cost per sandwich: £3.50

Rating: ★★☆☆

Panda Panda on Urbanspoon

 

Pho Express

This tiny shop front, often open into the night, only just has enough space for the minuscule kitchen and a couple of window seats. Despite the cramped conditions, Pho Express managed to whip some surprisingly good banh mi. This is due in no small part to the exceedingly crisp baguettes, although it’s a shame the pickled vegetables weren’t up to much.

Unusually, the Special packed in a dry, but pleasingly salty and musky almost jerky-like pork along with a light dab of earthy, fluffy pate and slices of smooth pork roll. Excellent stuff.

special banh mi at pho express

Special banh mi at Pho Express

The Classic wasn’t quite as barn storming, but it was still good with thin slices of Chinese-style lightly salty pork and smooth pork roll. Both were complimented well by a moreish mix of mayo and Sriracha-style spicy sauce.

classic banh mi at pho express

Classic banh mi at Pho Express

The iced Vietnamese coffee was lightly bitter as well as reasonably chocolatey and viscously sweet, but it was a little too watery for my liking.

iced vietnamese coffee at pho express

iced Vietnamese coffee at Pho Express

Pho Express may want to shout about its pho, but it has nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to its sandwiches.

Average cost per sandwich: £5.50

Rating: ★★★★☆

Pho Express on Urbanspoon

 

Sen Viet

Sen Viet is unusual for London – a proper sit-down restaurant that also serves banh mi, not just other Vietnamese dishes, but you can also get the sandwiches to go if you want. The baguette, coriander and pickled veg were nothing to write home about, but Sen Viet does better when it comes to the meaty fillings.

The Classic was stuffed with surprisingly thick slices of milky pork roll and slightly sweet slices of fatty roast pork edged with bits of rind too. Scumptious.

classic banh mi from sen viet

Classic banh mi from Sen Viet

The BBQ pork option wasn’t too shabby either – tender, lightly charred and sweet pieces of grilled pork garnished with punchy bird’s eye chillies and some creamy mayo.

pork baguette at sen viet

pork baguette at Sen Viet

If Sen Viet could sort out its bread and vegetables its baguettes would be great, but for now they’re merely just good.

Average cost per sandwich: £4

Rating: ★★★★☆

Sen Viet on Urbanspoon

 

Sticky Beaks

The quirkily-named Sticky Beaks is a market stall that only serves two sandwiches on most days, one of which is a pork banh mi. The firm, mildly spiced strands of pork had a hint of creamy pate and is complimented nicely by tingly chillies and tart, briney pickled vegetables. Unfortunately, the very chewy pain rustique/ciabatta-esque bread gets in the way of enjoying these quality fillings.

pork vietnamese baguette from sticky beaks

pork banh mi from Sticky Beaks

Average cost per sandwich: £5

Rating: ★★★☆☆

 

Velo

Velo’s gimmick is that you can order using the touchscreen terminals instead of speaking to a human being. However, a minimum wage fleshbag still brings your food to your table so you’ll still have to mumble thanks or grunt and avoid making eye contact (depending on your asocial preference).

Velo used to serve a cracking banh mi filled with pate and Chinese sausage, but this combination has sadly been jettisoned from its revamped menu. The tough and chewy baguette from before has been replaced, but with a forgettable, bog-standard one. Each baguette also comes with a few fiery slices of bird’s eye chillies and a heap of tart pickled carrots, but oddly most of the latter are served on the side for some reason.

The roast pork sandwich is filled with a generous portion of garlicky, tender, almost stew-like pieces of pig that has a mild musky saltiness vaguely reminiscent of shrimp paste. It’s not too bad as a substitute for grilled pork and pate, but I couldn’t help but miss the latter.

pork banh mi at velo

pork banh mi at Velo

Disappointingly, the vegetarian tofu option was a let down. Eating my way through the briney, soggy bits of tofu was akin to eating salt soaked bits of bread. Unpleasant.

tofu sandwich at velo

tofu sandwich at Velo

The iced coffee was far too milky, with the mildly sweet condensed milk overpowering what little coffee there was.

iced vietnamese coffee at velo

iced Vietnamese coffee at Velo

Velo’s unconventional pork banh mi wasn’t bad, but it needs to go back to the drawing board for its tofu version and its iced coffee. A return of the pate and Chinese sausage banh mi isn’t too much to ask either.

Average cost per sandwich: £5

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Velo on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

 

Viet Cafe (formerly Cafe Bay)

Previously known as Cafe Bay, this Denmark Hill eatery is more attractively presented than is the norm for banh mi joints in London – exposed brick walls, funky lighting and even a small conservatory with a couple of tables for use in warmer weather.

The Special was served with a surprisingly generous spreading of musky, salty, lightly spicy pate. That just made the rather limp pork roll, thickly sliced steamed pork and insipid vegetables all the more disappointing, but at least the coriander was punchy. The baguette was reasonably crisp and soft, but it couldn’t quite compare to the best breads here.

special banh mi at viet cafe

Special banh mi at Viet Cafe

close up of special banh mi at viet cafe

close up of Special banh mi at Viet Cafe

The thin slices of grilled fatty pork were subtly sweet, tangy and salty which was enhanced by the pickled vegetables which were noticeably tarter this time around. The bread was also markedly crunchier and stodgier too.

grilled pork banh mi at viet cafe

grilled pork banh mi at Viet Cafe

The same bread was used in the construction of the shredded caramel pork banh mi. In a similar vein to the grilled pork variant, the sweet, lightly caramelised taste of the julienned meat was enhanced by the pickled vegetables. I largely preferred the bolder sweetness of this pork compared to the more subdued flavours of the grilled pork.

caramelised shredded pork banh mi at viet cafe

caramelised shredded pork banh mi at Viet Cafe

The mild bitterness of Viet Cafe’s Vietnamese coffee was accentuated by the condensed milk which was mildly viscous and not overpoweringly sweet. A decent enough brew.

vietnamese coffee at viet cafe

Vietnamese coffee at Viet Cafe

hot vietnamese drip coffee at viet cafe

hot Vietnamese drip coffee at Viet Cafe

Viet Cafe has some reasonably good quality fillings, but the inconsistent and so-so nature of its bread and veg doesn’t do it justice.

Average cost per sandwich: £5.50

Rating: ★★★☆☆

 

Vieteat

As pun portmanteaus go, Vieteat isn’t a very good one. In any case, this Holborn diner and takeaway is open in the evenings and serves other dishes besides banh mi.

The baguette used in the Classic sandwich was light and crisp, although it almost certainly wasn’t made using rice flour. The slices of roast pork and pickled vegetables were utterly unremarkable, leaving it to the chicken liver pate to pick up the slack. It wasn’t bad, but tasted more like a kosher-style chicken liverwurst than a Vietnamese/French-style pate.

classic banh mi at viet eat

Classic banh mi at Viet Eat

close up of classic banh mi at viet eat

close up of Classic banh mi at Viet Eat

A far more flavoursome meat sandwich was the banh mi filled with beef stewed in red wine. The tender, moist and moreish chunks of brisket were also blessed with an occasional bite of jelly-like tendons. The beef was initially very aromatic, but the herby hit faded quickly. Excess red wine and meat juices did soak into the baguette, making it less crispy than it would otherwise have been, but thankfully this wasn’t a sloppy, messy sandwich to eat.

red wine stewed beef baguette at viet eat

red wine stewed beef baguette at Viet Eat

Disappointingly, the BBQ pork banh mi used the same bland, characterless pork as the Classic. The tofu variant wasn’t especially memorable either – the slightly sweet and squidgy bean curd pieces did little to set themselves apart. At least the baguettes were as crisp as before.

bbq honey pork sandwich at viet eat

bbq honey pork sandwich at Viet Eat

tofu banh mi at viet eat

tofu banh mi at Viet Eat

I wasn’t a fan of the watery, overly milky iced coffee either.

iced vietnamese coffee at viet eat

iced Vietnamese coffee at Viet Eat

Vieteat’s stewed beef banh mi is a winner, but everything else was a disappointment.

Average cost per sandwich: £6

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Viet Eat on Urbanspoon

 

Walk Thru

This lunchtime market stall used to make regular appearances at the Goodge Place market in Fitzrovia, but has since disappeared and I can find no official record of the place. In any case, I’ll cover it here both for historical purposes and as a warning.

The meat used in the honey garlic pork sandwich was very mildly sweet with a hint of garlic, but it was a bit too dry. The meat was outnumbered by a supermarket-quality salad occasionally livened up with a hint of mint as well as a few dabs of mayonnaise and sriracha-style sauce. Oddly, there were almost no pickled vegetables – a few discs of mildly tart radishes and that was it. Even more bizarre was the bread – a Middle Eastern-style sesame seed-flecked flatbread rather than a baguette.

honey garlic pork sandwich from walk thru

honey garlic pork sandwich from Walk Thru

close up of honey garlic pork sandwich from walk thru

close up of honey garlic pork sandwich from Walk Thru

Walk Thru’s effort wasn’t bad as a generic hot sandwich, but it’s a complete non-starter as a Vietnamese banh mi. It bears almost no resemblance to all the other sandwiches here.

Average cost per sandwich: £5

Rating: ☆☆☆☆

The Verdict

The quality of London’s Banh Mi isn’t perfect, but it’s far better than I expected. Pho Express, Banh Mi Bay, Aobaba, Bep Haus and Sen Viet all serve good quality Vietnamese sandwiches, but all fall short in one way or another.

The very best banh mi can be found at Banh Mi Hoi An and Keu. Although these two choices will lead some to accuse me of an East London bias, these two eateries really excel at both traditional and more inventive baguettes respectively. Although neither Banh Mi Hoi An nor Keu get everything right either, their sandwiches are as close as you can get to meaty, crispy, tart Vietnamese sandwich perfection.

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10 thoughts on “The best and worst banh mi in London – Vietnamese sandwiches review

  1. I haven’t been to nearly as many places as you have but judging from what you’ve written I reckon I’d agree with you – I am very fond of Banh Mi Bay, that’s probably my favourite place. I used to think it was BanhMi11 but I had one from their cafe and it wasn’t amazing. Think Keu is great too but I find the bread a little too hard. I made two trips to try out City Caphe as I’d heard such good things but I thought it was pretty awful! Think I might have to change my dinner plans to banh mi after reading this.

  2. Wowee! I am well impressed by this review of Banh Mi; its the most comprehensive review I have read of them, and I really love my Banh Mi. I have eaten at almost half of the ones you have tried, and my winner has got to be Keu! It’s downstairs from my office and I alternate from getting the Classic and Duck. Awesome post! Thank you!

  3. Just a note to the author or this. We appreciate your comments and indeed a very concise blog on a whole lot of banh-mi. However, I urge you do a little more research and perhaps a little more taste test perfecting should you wish to falsely state that banh-mi’s at Bun Cha café are not rice flour based. Bun Cha café would like to correct you on the above review and let you know that we sell only one base of banh-mi which is made from rice flour.
    Regards
    Bun Cha Cafe

    • I’ve clearly struck a nerve.

      My intention was to state that the first baguette didn’t taste like they were made out of rice flour. The review has now been tweaked to reflect this.

      -The Picky Glutton

  4. I am a Vietnamese, mid 20s, living in London over 16 years, i find your comments rather contradicting. Only one that i agree, Keu deli, but one thing all readers and the author should know is that Keu Banh Mi is not authentically Vietnamese at all, but it is good, true, for Western taste. Those that represents Vietnamese tastes were misled by the author. I am sorry, but you have not done justice for those. I suggest the author of the blog to visit Vietnam for at least a few months to get to know better about Banh Mi and Vietnamese Iced Coffee. According to you, you ll never find a “decent” Vietnamese Iced Coffee in the world, even in Vietnam. Our definition of iced coffee is rather different.

    • The assumptions that you’ve made reveal far more about you than they do about me.

      My Verdict noted that Keu was recommended more for inventive banh mi rather than traditional versions.

      -The Picky Glutton

  5. I recently went to shoreditch and found a new opening called kp banh mi, in vibe bar court, havent tried as many as you but this was pretty good.

  6. I am crazy about your blog, but I wish you either took your photos slightly further back or more focus- so many of them are fuzzy!

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