Banh Mi Bay

Address:  4-6 Theobalds Rd, Holborn, London WC1X 8PN
Bookings:  Walk in
Day:  Wednesday
Meal:  Dinner
Price: ££
Rating: 6.5 /10

Screen Shot 2018-08-14 at 19.31.49I may have eaten at Banh Mi Bay in Holborn a hundred times, and in the words of a certain famous French cabaret singer: non je ne regrette rien.

Yes, convenience played a part. I could have punted a Vietnamese spring roll over the restaurant from my front door. But then again, you don’t make weekly missions to every restaurant over which you can kick or toss small items of food. No, Banh Mi Bay’s magnetism derives from the fact that it serves up consistently excellent food, to take away or to eat in, for less than £10. Each time, every time. You can’t ask for much more than that.

Screen Shot 2018-08-14 at 19.31.35When taking out, I normally order the chargrilled chicken and boiled rice, which comes with a bundle of fresh vegetables, tomatoes, cucumber, carrots, and two pots of sauce, one fire-hot red chilli, the other a kind of Vietnamese soy sauce. The chicken is always grilled to perfection, trim and succulent, the rice sticky and light. The whole dish has a fresh and clean feel, healthy and simple.

Last week, I dropped in with my partner in culinary crime, a debutante at the restaurant. The place itself is simple: a huge glass panel window that faces the street; an open kitchen with a grill; twenty or so wooden tables with rickety little chairs.

I ordered the five spice lamb, marinated overnight and fried in a wok with peppers and succulent onions, served in a drop-dead soy and honey sauce. Outrageously nice. The whole ensemble came sizzling and spitting on a platter, the soft lamb and juicy onions browning before my eyes, the heat bubbling through the food as I speared at it with a fork. The rich fragrance came smoking off the platter, and for a moment it felt like I was in some ramshackle food market outside of Hanoi. I had a bowl of fried rice on the side, the grains crisp and aromatic.

Screen Shot 2018-08-14 at 19.31.43My partner in culinary crime wolfed down a bowl of stir-fried flat rice noodles with fat little prawns, crispy shards of onion scattered over the top. Unable to set about them with the desired pace using chopsticks, she raided their cutlery draw for a fork and went hell for leather at the delicious mound of noodles.

The only disappointing dish was the Vietnamese spring rolls, which were pork and prawns wrapped in Vietnamese rice paper. These were cold, stumpy and somewhat gelatinous, and there was nothing welcoming about their taste. The main courses were very generous anyway, and so we left these dumpy little creatures on their platter with few regrets.

Screen Shot 2018-08-14 at 19.31.29All of this came to around £30, and as mentioned, we could easily have done without the spring rolls, meaning two people can dine well in this restaurant for £25. You can’t say that about many places in central London. Banh Mi Bay’s quality to price ratio is one of the highest in the capital.

Banh Mi Bay has now expanded to three locations, with venues in Fitzrovia and St. Paul’s joining the Holborn original. This success is well deserved. Try one of them. Like Edith Piaf, you’ll have no regrets.


Paternoster Chop House

Address:  1, Warwick Court, Paternoster Sq., London EC4M 7DX
Bookings:  Walk in
Day:  Wednesday
Meal:  Dinner
Price: ££
Rating: 6/10

Screen Shot 2018-08-02 at 22.12.22Paternoster Chophouse is part of the restaurant empire of Sir Terence Conran, who also sells sofas and salad bowls (think Habitat, BhS, M&S etc.).

It achieved a small amount of notoriety as the venue for the Channel 4 show First Dates, where an eclectic mix of people are paired up and then filmed making toe-curlingly awkward small talk, before deciding at the end of each episode whether they want to meet for a second date or not.

We went there on a random Tuesday evening (it certainly wasn’t our first date), and sadly no romantic encounters were being filmed. What was occurring however, was a besuited father taking his three-year-old daughter out for a burger. He fulfilled his paternal duties in the most basic of senses, kitting his daughter out with a range of colouring pencils – which she used on the table – and chatting on the phone whilst watching as she stood on her chair and washed her hands in her glass of water. Extremely romantic for those of us sat directly next to them.

Screen Shot 2018-08-02 at 22.12.04As for the food, it slid somewhere in between adequate and good. Better than a Pizza Express, but worse than a restaurant you would recommend to a friend you wanted to keep. I started off with a chicken liver and port pate, which was the highlight of the meal, sharp and tangy, spreading smoothly over some decent bread.

My partner in culinary crime ate some smoked salmon, with shallots and capers, which she found nice. Although given that you can get nice smoked salmon in most British supermarkets, this is not the highest of culinary hurdles.

Screen Shot 2018-08-02 at 22.11.58It may be one of the driest summers in recent British history, but my main course of chicken Kiev came swimming in so much grease and oil that it could have been used to moisten the whole of the south east of England. It was accompanied by some cauliflower that had a green, unhealthy colour. Perhaps they were feeling sea-sick from bobbing up and down in so much grease.

My partner in culinary crime, a true scavenger of the ocean, ordered the sole for her main course. She liked it. The sauce was buttery, rich and lemony, a smooth accompaniment to a well-cooked fish.

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We finished with a Lancashire cheese and two rather sad little Eccles cakes. I’m sure it is a tried and tested combination, but I found the excessively sweet cakes a poor match for the strong, sour cheese. Perhaps the dish was a homage to some of the less successful dates that have featured on the show.

The restaurant is situated in the lovely Paternoster Square, bathed in the beauty of Christopher Wren’s masterpiece, St Paul’s. I would say that the best thing about this restaurant is the view you get of the cathedral as you walk out of the door. Hey, it’s a one in a million view. It’s not a one in a million restaurant.  No second date for me please.

 


African Volcano

Address:  6 Southwark Bridge Rd, London SE1 0EF
Bookings:  Walk in
Day:  Wednesday
Meal:  Dinner
Price: ££
Rating: 7/10

Screen Shot 2018-07-18 at 22.11.45I have explained the concept of Great Guns Social on this blog before. Different pop-up restaurants are allowed to take up residence in their kitchen for a brief period of time, normally a few months, before saddling up again and hitting the road, to be replaced by another chef with a stack of recipes and a dream.

Previously, we ate the tasting menu provided by Fodder, a pop-up specialising in foraged food. It was brilliant, surprising and delicious. They’ve vanished now, but the memory of their cooking remains vivid with us. Wherever you are Fodder, you have two fans here at Life at the end of a Fork!

Screen Shot 2018-07-18 at 22.10.39In their place is African Volcano, a pop-up specialising in the cuisine of Mozambique. It’s the creation of Grant Hawthorne and his wife, a pair of South Africans, who sell peri-peri sauces and marinades from their website, as well as at a stall in Maltby Market. They have a fairly large pair of foraged boots to fill, but at first taste, they’re having a good go of it.

Their peri-peri prawns with tomato and pilaf were a hit, rich and buttery, full-bodied and smoky. It was the kind of dish that you miss the very second you stop eating it. Spooning up the last morsel was like saying goodbye to a friend at the airport. I would happily have had a bowl five times its size and just sat around all evening with that plus a bucket full of chilled beers.

Screen Shot 2018-07-18 at 22.11.37But all precious things come to an end, and before long the bowl was vanishing towards the kitchen, replaced with a plate of great, thick cuts of smoked salmon. My partner in culinary crime normally corners any fish dish (even if it’s nominally intended to be shared), and deflects any would-be scavengers with the tenacity of an African lion swatting hyena on Serengeti. This is fine in principal, but it does mean I have to take her word for it when reviewing marine dishes. This time was no different, so you’ll have to have it on her authority that the salmon was well smoked and full-bodied.

A plate of cured hams were marbled and glistening, almost purple. They were thin and lean, but full of flavour.

Screen Shot 2018-07-18 at 22.11.54A southern fried chicken burger with spiced mayonnaise and red onions disappointed me. It was tall and narrow, difficult to eat, and strangely absent of the punch and vigour of the other dishes. It was certainly not volcanic. We found ourselves deconstructing it, eating the decent piece of fried chicken, and leaving the pretty pedestrian salad and bread on the plate. The ingredients of a burger should want to bind together. These had no affinity for each other.

Screen Shot 2018-07-18 at 22.11.30The best dish turned up last at the party. Their Cape Malva pudding was an instant classic, one of the nicest desserts we’ve had this year. It came hot and spongy, studded with dark chocolate, a scoop of cool vanilla ice cream melting on the side, a cluster of fresh raspberries and strawberries gathered round it. Everything on the plate played perfectly, the sharp tang of the fruit and the deep flavour of the chocolate, the warmth of the cake and the chill of the ice-cream.

The dish took me by surprise. We’d dithered about whether even to have a dessert. But it was an ambush worthy of the African savannah, and it put an exclamation point on the meal.

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Congratulations to African Volcano. And congratulations to Great Guns Social for picking pop-ups so well, especially ones so sprawling different in their offering. Here’s to further culinary eruptions on the Southwark Bridge Road.


‘O Ver

Address:  44-46 Southwark St, London SE1 1UN
Bookings:  Walk in
Day:  Wednesday
Meal:  Dinner
Price: ££
Rating: 6.5/10

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 21.56.17O’ ver is a Neapolitan restaurant around the corner from Borough Market. On its menu, it boasts rather bizarrely that in its cooking it uses the unique ingredient of sea water, “extracted from the purest areas of the Mediterranean.”

It is hard to believe that every fistful of spaghetti and every ball of dough served in this restaurant are brought to completion with water lugged out of the sea over 1,000 miles away in the Mediterranean. Surely this would require a small team of planes perpetually in motion between Heathrow and Naples International Airport, the pilots only stopping momentarily to mop their brows and take a sip of water (hopefully not also scooped out of the sea), before taxiing off again to get the next barrel of warm, salty acqua.

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 21.56.10And why on earth would sourcing your sea water on the other side of Europe make a pizza taste nicer? Are the sweet coastal waters of Devon and Cornwall not sufficient? Never mind. In the ever more saturated eco-system of London restaurants, perhaps the saltier the gimmick the better.

Whatever ingredients they’re using, the food at O’ Ver is pretty good. Their rosemary ‘seawater’ focaccia infused with melted parmesan was criminally moreish. The sort of starter that you can feel yourself filling up on with each bite, so you promise not to touch any more until your mains come, only to miserably break the pledge moments later, the bread just too warm, too cheesy, too plump and too nourishing to ignore for more than 30 seconds at a time.

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 21.56.28My partner in culinary crime, whose appetite for fish is well flagged on this blog, tore through a red tuna tartare sat on a bed of avocado, dressed with olive oil and a sprinkling of lime juice. I heard no complaints.

I had a lobster linguine, which was a little poor. The lobster, sourced in far off Canada, had travelled a long way to disappoint me in Borough. It was a small little fellow, with a lot of shell and very little meat. It could have done with fattening up a little bit more off the coast of Nova Scotia. The tomato sauce that came with it could have been popped out of jar of Loyd Grossman Pomodoro sauce.

My partner in culinary crime had a pizza with burrata, mozzarella, Italian sausage, cherry tomatoes and basil, with truffle oil drizzled on it. It was a decent pizza, if a little wet and a little limp.

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 21.56.38O’ Ver has an al fresco dining option, which is not as appealing as it sounds, even in the middle of a very warm London summer, unless you enjoy getting gassed by bus fumes.

O’ ver is a steady, solid restaurant, which will appeal to pizza lovers, or those who refuse to eat anything not prepared with Mediterranean seawater. For the general diner, Borough Market has better options, Brindisa, Padella, and El Pastor, to name a few. O’ Ver and out.