Published on October 8th, 2014 | by Rebecca Anne Milford0
Bang Bang Canteen, Fitzrovia
Summary: A quirky concept promises to make for an interesting meal, but in all honesty the food speaks for itself - authentic, fresh and absolutely delicious Vietnamese dishes that will transport you to South East Asian.
Owwww. I’m writing this review with a completely full stomach – probably far too full for comfort but I couldn’t help it doctor, the food was simply too good. Having just finished one of the best Vietnamese meals I’ve ever had at newly opened Bang Bang Canteen, then I now need to sit down and rest. In retrospect I probably didn’t need the ice-cream but darn, it was delicious.
Bang Bang Canteen has opened up a mere stone’s throw from Warren Street station. It is a brightly lit double-room of wood panelling and exposed brick walls, with a cheerful red sign at the front and some rickety tables for al fresco dining. There are also great paintings and panels on the wall which show an ever-evolving Film Noir sketch – part of the concept that lends the establishment its name.
We arrive at 8.30pm on one of the final warm nights of early October, fifteen minutes late – although we’ve already rung the staff and been told in buoyant tones that ‘it’s fiiiine! Don’t worry!’
The restaurant is buzzing – full of groups chatting over Vietnamese beers or couples trying to retain dignity while slurring their pho (disclaimer – if choosing this venue for a first date, be aware there will be no finesse to the evening – perhaps making it the perfect leveller?)
We decide to sit at one of the wrought iron tables outside and are presented with the paper menu. Upon asking what’s best for appetisers, our gorgeous waitress Bianca points out a few favourites. The chicken and chargrilled quail always go down well, as does a portion of Banh Bao (steamed buns). Her favourite happens to be the duck summer rolls.
We order the latter, the Bang Bang spicy chicken, and a pulled pork Bahn Bao. The wine selection is small but precise – and although we love the sound of the coconut milk we have two glasses of Fonte da Serrana Branca which is fresh and fruity.
The starters arrive in decent time – long enough for us to have to chat, but not too quickly. The chicken wings are amazing – sticky in their deep orange-reddish sauce, with a caramelised texture and sweet, nutty aftertaste. They’re served with a welcome helping of shredded radish for that extra refreshment, and sliced red chilli if you fancy making it a bit spicier.
The summer rolls are equally delicious. I’ve had summer rolls before that sit flaccidly on the plate, containing a meagre excuse for filling. The Bang Bang variety are packed to bursting – robust with fresh veg and slices of duck, accompanied by a light chilli sauce for dipping purposes. The Bahn Bao are two pillowy soft buns that are crammed with delectable shredded pork and more of that refreshing veg, along with a tangy sauce. One bite and we’re transported to South East Asian, with all the connotations of an exotic world. Our plates are empty before we even realise it. Wow.
Next up, and we’ve scanned the menu and decided on pho. Sadly the famed lobster is not available (try it if you can!) but we’re steered towards the crab noodles – and are offered some pork belly to enrich the stock. Well, hey, I’ve never been one to turn down pork belly and I won’t now. For those not in the pho-know, then it is a Vietnamese soup that consists of broth, rice noodles, herbs and meat, so the pork belly will add depth to the flavour. Bang Bang’s 18 hour broths are cooked using the freshest of natural ingredients, beef bone marrow, ox tail, free range chicken and roasted fragrant spices, so we’re in for a treat. We also like the look of the Ca Ri – a Vietnamese curry – never having experienced one before and so choose the chicken variety.
Our food arrives – a huge cauldron-like-bowl of steaming pho and a tray of curry with fluffy, snow white boiled rice. The curry has a thick, rich sauce and large chunks of meat which fall off the bone, accompanied by hunks of potato. The sauce is delicious – perfectly seasoned, warming, and with crunchy bits of possibly skin. It’s hearty and yet fresh all at once – obviously a skill in the cooking. The chicken is tender and soft, the potato adds a bit of bulk, and the whole thing reminds me kind of Tibetan food I’ve had before – peasants mountain food, but cooked to perfection and made wholly appealing to our western tastes. At the end of the meal we find we have left a little rice and chicken, and a chunk of potato, but have scarped the vessel clean of that delicious sauce.
The pho is massive. Honestly, I feel I could bathe in it. It smells of the sea (in a good way) and is a robust reddy colour, with masses of noodles swimming in the broth. Chunks of crab meat float everywhere; the pho is packed with them, and here and there bob those slices of pork belly.
The broth is completely satisfying; almost like a bisque but not creamy or overly-rich. There’s an overall cleanness to the flavour, and the quality of Asian cooking is evident. We scoop the noodles up on our spoons, winding them around and maneuverings them to our mouths with attempts of minimal splash-back. We only manage half of the dish – these are impressive portions.
By now, groaning and clutching our tummies, we should have left. But Bianca informs us we must try the ice cream; there’s stem ginger, green tea, and salted caramel. Well, sold. We go for the last option and the first bite is heaven – smooth and creamy with tongue-coating tastiness. There are little nuggets of salted caramel scattered throughout like gold in a seam, and every now and then our teeth bite into one – they make a wonderful cracking sounds like boot heals on a frozen puddle and explode in our mouths like delectable sugar bombs. Mmmm.
By this time we don’t want to leave – partly because of the relaxed, welcoming friendly atmosphere and partly because we need someone to roll us out the door. But it was all worth it – the food was brilliant and the Noir concept is exciting. At our time of visiting it was just having the final stages added – elements like a telephone guests can call to find out the next piece of the noir puzzle. It all sounds very exciting.
But for now the night is calling so we say goodbye, stuffed but happy, and promising to return on a different night to try more of the delicious food Bang Bang Canteen has to offer.
Bang Bang Canteen, 53 Warren St, W1T 5NL
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