Café East is located in a leisure park in Surrey Quays. It’s the sort of place where you’d only choose to dine at, out of convenience rather then a choice, thus very popular with families and groups of youths who’s idea of gourmet dining is a trip to Nandos. Culinary highlights at the park include Frankie & Benny’s and Pizza Hut – making Café East the shining jewel in this rather lack lustre crown.
The stone clad exterior of Café East is married with a dining room that is bright, airy but utilitarian. It’s what one might describe as public sector chic: bare magnolia walls, laminate floors and dated pine furniture with tables covered in paper table cloths.
Walking into the place on Sunday afternoon – it’s bustling and sounds like a school canteen. A sizable majority of the diners are of South East Asian descent, which is always a good sign.
The menu is a huge laminated thing - in stature rather than content as the menu is rather concise. For those who can’t tell their bun thit nuong (vermicelli noodles and grilled meat) from their com ga (chicken rice), the menu includes photography of all the dishes. If food photography is the gastronome’s equivalent of porn, then the menu would be the blurred naked girlie pics pre-pubscent school boys would be printing off on their inkjets and stapling together in their bedrooms to sell in the school playground. Lack of styling and bad lighting mean they sadly do the food no justice.
We start with three plates to share: first the banh cuon (£4.80) filled with minced shitake mushroom and pork, topped with crispy fried shallots and bean sprouts.
Deliciously dressed with nuoc cham - a piquant and sweet fish sauce and fresh chilli dressing – these were absolutely divine and the best thing we ate here. The cha goi (£4.30) was a big greasy disappointment. Served with whole lettuce leaves and sweet chilli dipping sauce, the rolls included an ungenerous filling that only served to emphasise how much oil they’d been cooked in.
Moving on to the mains, order of the day was of course pho – the fragrant soup noodle that is to Vietnam, what fish and chips is to the British isles. There’s a choice of six with varying cuts and types of meat. We ordered the pho ga (£7.50) strips of braised chicken, and the pho dac biet (£7.50) – translated as special pho. The special included a combination of beef brisket, braised chicken and poached prawns all served with a plate of garnish including Thai basil, fresh chilli and bean sprouts, but surprisingly no Sriancha. The Thai hot sauce has become synonymous condiment to pho, so it was somewhat an oddity not to see the little red bottle with green top on the tables at Café East.
The pho is available in a choice of normal and spicy soups, leaving little opportunity to personalise the broth if you opt for the spicy. The AB chose a normal broth for his pho ga and I went with the spicy for the dac biet pho.
Despite its eye-watering colour, the
spicy wasn’t very spicy at all. So in
the way I’ve become accustomed I made the error of trying to customise the
broth by adding some hot sauce. Big mistake. Expecting the small dipping bowl of sweet hot sauce I was
given to be Sriancha, I rendered my soup inedible by tipping the entire contents
into my bowl much to the amusement of the AB. He smartly left his lightly perfumed pho ga well alone,
perhaps I’ll do the same next time I eat a Café East or I’ll just bring my own
Our meal was washed down with a glass of café da (£2.80) iced Vietnamese coffee. Refreshingly sweet - it was served in a generous size glass but I reckon they should be selling in jugs it's that good.
|pho dac biet|
Verdict: It may not be the best Vietnamese in town for that head to East London, but for leisure park dining it definitely beats its fast food neighbours for serving fresh food at reasonable prices.