When I was 22 I went travelling around the world and was lucky enough to spend four months in Asia. What I wasn’t ready for when I got to Asia was the culture shock. I got incredibly homesick at times for people but also things. I was a typical western brat who missed the familiarity of things I knew. Everything in Asia seemed so alien.
That’s not to say I didn’t have a great time, but by the time we reached Vietnam, three months into our tour, we were craving a taste of home. And boy were we excited when we discovered banh mi. Banh mi is a Vietnamese sandwich – a sandwich! I hadn’t had one in three months! – and it came in a French baguette-style loaf – again, bread! Amazing! Banh Mi is sold from lots of little stalls and carts on the road in Vietnam, along with the other Vietnamese favourite, pho.
So anyway, banh mi is more to me than a sandwich – it brings back to me all these lovely feelings of comfort while away from home, when I was feeling a bit scared and afraid (I know, I was a wimp!).
So recently I went to sample on of Great Eastern Street’s many banh mai offerings at Banh Mi 11. Accompanying me was the lovely Abby (Wanderlust & Bake).
There was a queue out of the door – both a good and bad sign – but it was moving steadily. Amazingly this place is just around the corner from one of my clients’ office, but I’d never heard of it before. And I was missing a gem!
There was a lot to tempt me, not least the yummy looking summer rolls. But I kept focused and went for a pork belly banh mi, which came with crackling and lots of yummy Vietnamese-style pickles and herbs.
The bread was lovely and fresh – the outside crust was crunchy but yielded under a bit, just like the ones from my memories of lunches in Vietnam. Inside the pork belly was soft and sweet with a generous portion of headily savoury crackling. The pickles and herbs gave it that lovely fresh and sweet kick that is so much part of Vietnamese food.
And all for under a £5. It was brilliant and I will certainly be going back. Wonderfully, Banhmi11 do take out for those who need lunch in a hurry.
Banh Mi 11, 101 Great Eastern Street, London EC2A 3JD
My lovely friend, Lucy, is returning to her homeland of New Zealand. I am Very Sad about this, for selfish reasons revolving around the fact that I like her and don’t want to not be able to see her on a bi-weekly basis.
The upside of her getting ready to leave is that she’s finished work and is footloose and fancy free, so she has been meeting me for lunch. We have made Salvation Jane our lunchtime hangout. It’s very close to my work and serves lovely food. That’s pretty much our criteria met!
SJ, as none of the cool kids are calling it, is the little sister of the brilliant Aussie cafe, Lantana. It was set up by an Aussie and very much celebrates the Aussie love of decent brunches and amazing coffee, as well as a friendly, informal atmosphere.
The lunch menu at Salvation Jane is quite brunchy, with antipodean-style corn fritters stacked with streaky bacon, fresh spinach and slow roast tomatoes served with a avocado chilli lime salsa and crème fraiche a sure-fire favourite.
Luce and I always go for their tart of the day with two side salads. They’re ever-changing and always bright, innovative and full of healthy flavour.
This was some kind of pesto and tomato tart, I think. It came with a potato salad with lots of fresh greens mixed in, and a giant-cous cous salad with roasted root veg. It was as delicious as it looks.
This tart is some foxy courgette number, served with a red cabbage salad and a butternut squash salad.
I’ve also had those pancakes, and they were a winner.
So not only now will I desperately miss Lucy when she goes home, but I will miss an excuse to pop to Salvation Jane for lunch every week. Luce: DON’T GO! Me ‘n’ the tarts need you!
Service: 2 (they always bring us something we didn’t order and then always add it to the bill!)
This is hardly a new joint to hit the trendy East London restaurant scene. Brick Lane Beigel Shop opened in 1977, and has had customers flocking to it for its authentic bagels ever since. Open 24 hours a day, BLBS is most famous for its salt beef beigel. Last week I made it my mission to track it down. Having lived in London for five years it seems crazy I hadn’t been before.
The place is nothing to look at, and is certainly not going to win any customer service awards, but it’s doing well anyway so why change what’s not broken?
I got my beigel and scurried back to my nearby office to marvel at it. The salt beef comes in massive hunks, and I got English mustard which gave it an amazing kick. Note: if you are slightly afraid of hot mustard, do NOT get it. I had loads in mine, but I am hard so managed to tough it out.
The beigel itself was wonderfully chewy and light, and the beef was a heady meaty-salty flavour. I really enjoyed it, but at the same time I wouldn’t go there every lunch time. But then I don’t go anywhere every lunch time.
Simon, my aforementioned curmudgeonly friend, came with me. He said he didn’t understand what put the beigel above any other decent beigel, and also claimed he could eat another one straight away afterwards. He is quite a greedy fellow, but I also think the beigel wasn’t exactly filling. More of a hearty snack than a full meal.
So essentially what I am saying is: good sandwich, like the authenticity, would go if in the area.
Brick Lane Beigel Bake, 159 Brick Lane, E1 6SB
Nearest tube: Bethnal Green (12 min walk), Shoreditch High Street Overground (6 min walk)
It’s my last week working in Covent Garden for a while, and having put of visiting Koshari Street for one reason or the other (rain, laziness, other shiny things caught my eye), this week I was determined to get a visit in.
Koshari is an Egyptian dish which is a mixture of pasta, lentils, pulses topped with chickpeas, tomato and garlic sauce, caramelised onions and some herbs. It is carb-tastic.
Koshari Street sell koshari and pretty much nothing else. Here is the menu so you can check if I’m wrong.
Oh they do a salad as well. Alright, I was wrong. Let’s get over it and move on.
So I ventured in, and was helped to a medium bowl of koshari by two very nice staff in what was a pretty empty shop/restaurant. I got to choose from the level of heat in the tomato sauce: mild, hot or mad. I went hot. I’ll let you into a secret: it wasn’t that hot at all.
I got back to my desk and took out my swag…
Inside, well, it didn’t look that pleasant. I blame the caramelised onions, which kind of look like meal worms…
Eh. They tasted delicious though! As I excavated through the layers, I was pleasantly surprised by all the flavours in the koshari. The portion was incredibly generous, and I couldn’t finish it all though. Here’s a picture of the layers… (It’s not a great photo. Standard.)
Would I go to Koshari again? Sure, it is delicious – but massively filling. A perfect warming dish for winter though, or perhaps a perfect hangover cure. And it’s perfect fodder for tourists, workers or theatre-goers deep in the heart of theatre land.
I move around with my job fairly frequently, being that I am freelance these days. I really enjoy the variety of moving to different offices, working with different people and also working in different areas of London. Having spent the last two and a bit years in West London, I am relieved to not have to schlep over there anymore. At the moment I am working for a content agency in Shoreditch, and am very much enjoying the range of lunch time options open to me. I’m a big fan of Whitecross Street Market on Thursdays and Fridays, especially Luardo’s van. YUM!
But one hot, sunny lunchtime this week I decided it was time to try Yum Bun. Yum Bun make gua bao (Taiwanese steamed, filled buns to the uninitiated) from a short menu with options for pork, chicken, salmon or veggie. You can also get a bento box, which comes with 2 buns, a handful of veggie goyza, miso soup and a salad.
I sidled up to the small shop front and joined a queue of Shoreditch hipsters. My lunch buddy, Simon, stood at my side and busily moaned about how trying new places always means queuing (he was NOT a fan of Meat Liquor). I had to say, after being the first in the queue for 15 mins with no acknowledgement from the staff, I was begrudgingly coming around to his way of thinking. Then I was called forward and placed my order and parted with the best part of £8 for a Bento box. Simon’s eyebrows shot up into his hairline and he muttered something about Tesco’s sandwiches. Simon is not a fan of trends. Well, modern trends. I don’t know why Simon is getting such a starring role in this blog post, it’ll only encourage him and he really does not need that.
Anyway, then I waited. There were probs about 4 people in front of me. I waited and waited. Simon left to go to Tescos. I waited. While I was there the staff behind the counter had tetchy exchanges, which always annoys me: dudes, if you have a problem with each other don’t show it in front of customers, yeah? Thirty minutes of pass agg staff and sighing later I was called forward. My buns were dressed and I was given a bag and off I trotted back to the office just in time for the end of my lunch break. Wicked.
I was now grimly determined to HATE those stupid, pretentious Taiwanese buns that stole £8 of my hard-earned money and an hour of my time. The service was crap too, I grumbled to myself in my head. “This is definitely going to be terrible and I’ll write a review saying it’s all crap and that’ll make me feel better,” I thought as I got to grips with my first bun, a chicken number with tartare sauce.
However, as soon as I bit into my chicken bun, I was filled with horror and disappointment: this bun was good. It was beautifully seasoned, with a delicately-balanced and nicely sharp tartare dressing. The buns were soft and chewy, like savoury marshmallows. “Great, now I can’t write an arsey review,” I thought, my resolve quickly fading. I’m nothing if not a negative person, guys.
I then was ready for my pork belly bun, with plum sauce. I knew it was going to be great, and this time I wasn’t wrong.
I get slightly unnerved by how much fat is on pork belly and what it might do to my arteries, but this was good. The pork was soft and pulled apart easily. The plum sauce was lightly smokey and pretty sweet. There was some salad in there too to give a bit of a crunch texture, and to bring it together so it was like those ubiquitous duck pancakes you get in all Chinese gaffs.
The veggie goyzas were lovely and crisp. The inside was a little insipid, but I often find that to be the way with veggie rolls. The salad was nicely dressed and acted as a nice palate cleanser after the pork. The miso soup? Could have done without it. I mean, it was fine and yeah, I did eat/drink most of it but it didn’t add a whole lot.
Would I go back? Probably not. There’s far too many other gems in Shoreditch to discover to worry about going back to the same place twice. I believe Yum Bun is a pop-up, which is perhaps for the best as they don’t really have a lengthy enough menu to keep people coming back, especially if they have to spend a good portion of their lunchtime queuing. Would I recommend it to you? Sure, go for it. Maybe avoid rush hours, but it’s a good, filling lunch-esque snack. Maybe on pay day, as it’s a bit steep for a regular lunch.