Bánh Bánh

Vietnamese street food; Peckham; and a soft launch: how could I resist?! Bánh Bánh – literally meaning “all things delicious” – were previously in residence at the Bussey Building and now have a permanent site in Peckham Rye. After extensive email correspondence with “Tien”, I managed to secure a booking during the soft launch weekend of this Vietnamese kitchen. Tien is one of the Nguyens five siblings who run this family-run business, which brings authentic Vietnamese cuisine to the foodie hotspot that is Peckham. The two brothers cook in the kitchen, whilst the three sisters are front-of-house; the appetite here is to keep things as a family-run, rather than become a chain. And the family ethos of the venue is immediately clear from their warm, collegiate and welcoming tone.

Following a steady stream of increasingly popular, millennially-catered Vietnamese openings, Bánh Bánh has brought the craze South of the River. An and Tien started out trialling recipes at local food festivals, including Pexmas and Nunhead Bite, before launching the restaurant in South London. “We wanted to keep it south of the river,” says An on Bánh Bánh’s location. “There aren’t many places in Peckham or Brixton that do really authentic Vietnamese homestyle cooking.” And just as I was supporting Peckham trade, Banh Banh helpfully engages with other businesses in the area, with the produce being fresh and locally sourced. Indeed, the five siblings grew up in the area, so it’s very fitting that they’re setting up shop here. Wing Tai Supermarket in the Aylesham Centre is their go-to place for herbs, salad and vegetables; and they also buy groceries from Kim Lien Mini Market on Peckham High Street. For the Nguyens, keeping it local is an important aspect of the Bánh Bánh ethos.

The food here reflects the recipes created by the siblings’ grandma whilst she was a chef in Saigon during the 1940’s; her handwritten recipes inspired every item on the menu. Yet, whilst the original recipes are as traditional as they come, the family is forever researching and developing them to accommodate modern tastes and ingredients. Trips to Vietnam help keep the recipes fresh, with variations and updates that are tried and tested on friends and customers back in Peckham. Luckily for me, the menu is very vegan friendly. I was allured by everything from bowls of pho and bánh mì, to home-made summer rolls and other classic street eats, highlighting the best of Vietnam’s fresh and flavourful food and all with a pho-nominal healthy side.

For starters, we shared the Tofu Summer Rolls (£5) made from delicate rice paper filled with aromatic paddy herbs and lettuce, served with a delicious homemade hoisin dipping sauce, topped with peanuts. For my dining companions, the rolls were not seasoned well enough, nor were the vegetables and herbs – particularly the mint – cut finely enough. The dish could have also done with some spring onions, but the sauce was moerish and has definitely inspired me to buy some hoisin sauce, or recreate a similar sauce with peanut butter for salad dressings.

As my companion was not a fan of the Summer Rolls, we couldn’t resist ordering the Spring Rolls (£5), stuffed with shitake mushrooms, tofu, glass noodles and taro. These were much more to her taste, although I still prefer the freshness of the Summer option. We also shared the Black Sesame Seed Crackers (£2), which were so attractive to look at, reminding me of a Vietnamese version of papadams, and delicious with the sweet chilli sauce.

Tofu Summer Rolls
Black Sesame Seed Crackers and Sweet Chilli Sauce

For mains, I was immediately drawn to the Buddha Curry (£8), not just because of its fitting name – with its links to enlightenment perfect for a new beginning – but also because this curry features coconut milk and fragrant lemongrass. The tofu and wide variety of vegetables in the curry – including butternut squash, potatoes, aubergine, and green beans – provided a diverse range of flavours and textures. For my companion, the curry could have been spicier, confirming their preference for Thai food, but for me the dish was well balanced.

Buddha Curry

The highlight of the evening, however, was probably the Bun Noodle Salad (£9), a noodle salad with paddy field herbs, vermicelli noodles, pickles, cucumbers, topped with shallots, peanuts and spring rolls, with crispy tofu and mushrooms. Luckily for me, there’s no bun! The portion size was so generous, and the dish has converted me to spring rolls which offered just the right crispy topping to this fresh salad.

Bun Noodle Salad

The cocktails were also very original, testament to the attention to detail here. Although I didn’t order one, I was very tempted by the Lychee Bramble (£7.50), made with gin, lychee puree, blackurrant liqueur, and lemon juice. On the non-alcoholic side, my companion was slightly disappointed with her icy coconut water, and my other companion was surprised to discover no jasmine tea!

All in all, Bánh Bánh has the roots of an excellent family run Vietnamese. The food was fresh, flavoursome, and vibrant, with a focus on Vietnamese street food favourites as well as sociable dishes that celebrates sharing plates. With a bit more fine-tuning, more experimentation with flavourings, their food could have that “wow” factor.

Bánh Bánh, 46 Peckham Rye, London, ,SE15 4JR

Website: http://www.banhbanh.com/

Rating: **

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