I have lived a stone’s throw away from “Pho Mile”, a stretch of East London’s Kingsland Road famous for its amazing range of authentic and cheap Vietnamese restaurants, for nearly 4 years, yet am ashamed to say have only once or twice sampled what many people travel across London for.
There are several reasons for this. Firstly, before I discovered my love for Thai food, mainly via Rosa’s Thai Café’s fantastic offering, I was quite narrow-minded it when it came to South East Asian food, with Vietnamese cuisine never really being something I wanted to explore further, most likely because I was yet to experience it’s best flavours.
Secondly a lot of the restaurants on “Pho Mile” aren’t exactly interior hotspots. I mean yes, they tend to be super authentic and run by Vietnamese families but these families have run these restaurants for years so dining rooms can be a little, let’s say, basic. Most restaurants are BYOB which is great and the food they serve is cheap but equally it also means it’s all about a quick table turnaround. Add in not taking reservation and you get the gist why I just hadn’t really bothered when I guess I could also stay in and order something or cook.
Of course, I knew I was generalising and maybe being a little harsh, there are a good dozen of restaurants on or near the “mile”, all varying immensely in terms of quality of food offered as well as dining environment, and I couldn’t help but become intrigued by a relatively recent addition to the strip.. BúnBúnBún. It was not just the modern neon sign outside and bright dining room with wooden benches inside that looked but I had also spotted some of my favourite foodie Instagram accounts posting about BúnBúnBún more than a couple of times and I realised I may have been missing a trick by not checking out potential dinning gem, located basically in my front yard.
No doubt the BYOB element was also appealing during this very long and expensive January, which is why two of my friends were more than up for checking out BúnBúnBún on a recent Friday night, and after a few glasses at my house we headed over there around 8:30pm. A few things to note- you can’t book but we were able to wait at their dessert / bubble tea café next door so didn’t have to brave the cold or stand around in the busy restaurant. We were given a number and ended up waiting about 25 minutes, wine in hand, ready to be seated. BúnBúnBún does actually sell wine and beers (wine being around £19 a bottle) but with a Sainsbury’s only a couple of doors down and a corkage charge of £4 a person, you are still better off getting a bottle yourself, hard pushed to spend more than a tenner including the corkage on booze, which is great for London standards.
The dining room is of course not exactly of a fine dining standard, its tight, bustling and full of people happily slurping down their pho and I loved it for that, no pretences, cosy and a great place to gossip with your friends. Service was super efficient, sometimes a little too efficient, clearing plates before we had finished, but nonetheless friendly and full of helpful tips of what to order.
The menu is vast so be prepared to be spoiled for choice and portions are huge, all at a very decent price. I recommend you order a range of starters to share with your fellow diners- we had an outstanding, and huge, papaya salad with prawns (and boy those prawns were juicy and fresh), prawn summer rolls with a delicious peanut dip and even more prawns in the form of crispy tempura salt and chilli prawns.
For mains the choice was even harder. BúnBúnBún specialises in Bún vermicelli noodle salads- steamed rice noodles and salad served with a variety of accompaniments, ranging from grilled meats to lemongrass tossed tofu, finished off with lots of fresh herbs and a tangy dressing, and I was very tempted to try their monkfish with dill bún but in the end went for one of their equally fantastic sounding noodle soups, craving something warm and comforting on this cold Friday night.
My bun riéu cua, a crab and tomato noodle soup with prawns and tofu, was incredible, with zingy flavours not too different from a laksa but with an added lightness from the crab and fresh tomatoes and with an earthy element from all the fresh herbs, that made it all in all a real pleasure to eat. The portion again was huge and I struggled to finish the noodles and broth, not that I am complaining if I could have I would have finished it for sure!
While one of my other dining companions also went for the soup, another chose one of BúnBúnBún’s set rice meal. A real steal at £11.5, though I forgot to mention that my delicious pho was only £10.2 (!), their set meals come with rice, pickles and vegetable broth as well as your choice of curry, steak, slow cooked pork or clay pot stew, there is really something for everyone. My friend in the end went for the spicy tofu curry with fresh tomato and once again seemed very impressed with the fresh flavours and quality of ingredients served up. This was across the board delightfully none stodgy food that impressed with fresh flavours not grease and MSG.
As our plates were cleared we could spy our waiter eyeing up our table, ready to give it to the next lot of hungry revellers, but we really didn’t mind making a move so others could enjoy BúnBúnBún. If you want to linger around for hours after your dinner has been eaten this may not be your ideal spot, but then again you are a short walk away from Shoreditch where there are plenty of bars for another drink or restaurants if you want a dessert.
For the £24 we paid each including corkage (plus £6 for a bottle of white from Sainsbury’s) we had an outstanding dinner and I for one do not mind a place that is a little rough around the edges as long as it delivers authentic food at great prices. I cannot believe it took me so long to try this place, I will be embarking on the 5 minute walk there a lot more often rather than reverting to Deliveroo, they’ve got a new regular that’s for sure.