Whaam Banh Mi, Soho

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When Brits return home from Asia, they rave about the street food they tried on their travels… so it seems logical that London’s restaurant scene is working hard to recreate some of the favourite fast food enjoyed so much abroad.

As the name suggests, Whaam Bahn Mi celebrates the Vietnamese sandwiches (‘banh mi’) enjoyed on the streets of Ho Chi Minh. Tucked away behind Piccadilly Circus, this cheerful takeaway café provides the workers of Soho with an exotic lunch offering.

Operating only as a takeaway, this characterful little venue only has a few menu choices. There are five banh mi on offer which can be accompanied by the side salads or fresh summer spring rolls. Founder Tom Barlow spent time in Vietnam researching and trying the authentic banh mi snacks so he could offer the real deal in London.

The fluffy baguettes are filled with the slow-cooked filling of your choice and loaded with pate, pickled shredded carrot and mooli radish, cucumber, coriander, crispy shallots and red chilli. It is a wonderful assortment of flavours and textures. We chose to try the Luc Lac beef brisket and the BBQ shredded pork, though chicken, fishcakes and tofu are also available. Both meats were delicious – tender and rich in flavour thanks to the slow cooking technique. The extras were tasty too, though I found the chicken liver pate a little overpowering. These sandwiches need to be eaten quick – we found after five minutes that the bread became sloppy and was increasingly difficult to eat.

Whaam Banh Mi offers a friendly service and a lovely cultural lunch option for the arty Soho crowd. I’m visiting Vietnam later this year and can’t wait to try a banh mi in its original context.

More information here: www.whaambanhmi.com

House of Ho, Soho

When people ask me where they should eat in London I normally tell them to head to Soho. Here one finds a cross section of the best restaurants in London and almost every cuisine you could imagine represented. Last week I headed to House of Ho, Bobby Chinn’s exotic and sexy restaurant which offers a modern twist on traditional Vietnamese food.

The exterior is dark and mysterious with just the open air tables offering a clue as to the food and atmosphere inside. The design is simple; the food and drinks demand all the attention. Groups of friends and couples cluster around the unusually shaped restaurant in cosy dimly lit corners. We were seated at a lovely better lit table by the open window, I loved observing the manic Soho life outside.

The cocktails are exciting and feature a range of intriguing Asian ingredients. The Ho’rny Devil was a divine mix of lemongrass vodka, chilli infused vodka, coconut water and lemongrass syrup served in a martini glass with a coconut rim, the ultimate beachside drink. I also loved the Saigon Sour made with mint Bourbon, crème de peche, agave nectar, pomelo and rhubarb bitters,  a recent creation inspired by the musical Miss Saigon.

The House of Ho food menu is split into different sections depending on cooking method: grilled, wok tossed, fried, steamed, braised. The dishes are all served as small plates, three plates are recommended per person. The food is beautifully presented in original ceramic vessels, incredibly photogenic particularly in the natural light. It is lovely to have a variety to share rather than picking only one dish, and gives a much more eclectic range of flavours. Our favourites included the tender cubes of Shaking Beef which were soft and velvety inside but crispy and salty on the outside, Lemongrass Chicken in sticky sweet caramel sauce and Smokey Chilli glazed chicken wings which were piping hot and covered in a wonderfully fragrant marinade. I was pleased to discover, despite usually disliking fish, that I loved the Vietnamese 7 spice marinated squid, which was light and perfectly seasoned. Morning Glory is a great green addition tossed in shallot oil and scattered with crispy garlic.

There are so many savoury delights to keep you occupied and I rarely crave dessert after Asian food, but if you do need something sweet, the lemon scented crème brulee would be my recommendation. Rich and creamy, it is a satisfying treat. We finished with a calming and cleansing cup of fresh mint tea.

Ideally located near to Theatreland, House of Ho offers the perfect pre-theatre menu for those heading to a show. Choose three dishes from the Taste of Ho menu for £19.50 or from the Showstopping Ho for £23.50.

House of Ho is an eclectic and vibrant restaurant in the heart of buzzing Soho, ideal for an exotic cocktail or an indulgent Vietnamese feast.

More information and book here.