I have been remiss in not publishing a review of Cafe East as I first came here over a decade ago. It was dirtier (but cheaper) then. Now it is much spruced up, so not as dependent on word of mouth for business. With such a makeover, it actually looks like a place that it might be nice to eat at rather than somewhere you are taking a bit of a punt on.
This fancy make-up better be justified given that prices have increased by more than 100% since the first and dingier time I visited.
As for the food, in recent years London has had some decent Vietnamese places spring up in central locations. This perhaps obviates the need to travel to the ends of the earth for something authentic.
As for the name, I thought that it referred to the restaurant’s geographical origins. Also tends to be a fairly accurate description of the clientele too.
Hot and sour sauce to go with the below.
Banh Cuon, rice pastry filled with minced pork and mushroom and topped with luncheon meat, fried shallots and bean sprouts with fish sauce. You eat this dipped in the hot and sour sauce. The casing was excellent and bouncy, the minced pork and mushroom filling adding just the right amount of meaty bite, the crunchy and soft bean sprouts and crisp shallots finishing off the ensemble. This was my favourite dish of the meal.
Pot tai chin, lean rare and well-done beef with rice noodles. Required a bit of DIY assembly before eating.
Lemongrass, basil, bean sprouts.
Chilli and lemon.
Pho following my inept attempts to fit as much of the greenery into my bowl. This was, delicious if a bit fiery. In my greed for heat, I promptly added half the chilli to my dish. In the same way that I do my cooking (not tasting as things go along, so incorporating lottery excitement into my every day life), I was surprised with the result but by then it was too late. My eyes watered and my tongue caught on fire. When the pain subsided, I found the dish tangy, meaty and altogether excellent. The two types of beef with excellent firm yet yielding rice noodle was something to treasure.
Che Ba Mau, sweetened red kidney beans, green jelly, coconut milk and crushed ice. Meaty, not too sweet, creamy and cold, a good dish/drink. Although this was dessert, this arrived at the start of the meal. Good thing too as the coconut milk was the fire extinguisher I needed following the chilli.
Even with the increase in prices, Cafe East still provides a great meal for not that much. Although other places may be in more convenient locations, have a more refined (i.e. non-canteen) atmosphere, if your focus is on having the best pho (and Banh Cuon), you could do worse then end up in the east. A little while after eating I thought that maybe they are called Cafe East, not because of the origin of the food, but perhaps because it is way out with an “E” postcode. In which case, I could do with more food like this close to home.
A quiet eating 8/10.
Lunch (noodle, starter and drink) was GBP23 excluding other drinks and service.
100 Redriff Rd, Surrey Quays Leisure Park
London SE16 7LH