Cafe East Pho, 100 Rediff Road, Surrey Quays Leisure Park SE16 7LH
Nearest Station: Canada Water, Surrey Quays
Price: £15 per head (including pho, drink and a shared starter)
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pro: good value for money, nice food, fast service
Con: doesn’t serve tap water, perhaps a bit too much sugar content in the drinks.
As I have mentioned in an earlier post Princess and Pho, we are starting a tour of Pho places around London, trying to tease out the best from the massive number of choices available in this diverse city. So here it is, we started from the 1st stop of our tour: Cafe East.
Cafe East has gotten a bit of a reputation of its own. Whenever I mention ‘Canada Water’, people seem to automatically link the conversation to Cafe East. For convenience, cheap price and the tasty broth, I am no stranger to this place. It almost feels strange and out of place to have a restaurant near the edge of a deserted parking lot. OK, the surrounding was not that deserted, there was a cinema, and couple of other restaurants, but just by the look of it, one would highly doubt how much business there is. Everything just looked too quiet. Well, you couldn’t be more wrong, if you think Cafe East is unpopular. Inside the old brick building, people were queuing up to get a seat. It was very much alive.
The menus is simple and minimalist, basically divided into Starters, Pho, Vermicelli and others. Obviously, the Pho is the most popular choice there. There are three types: chicken, beef and seafood. All comes in non-spicy and spicy options. You can then choose between beef broth or chicken broth. I would personally recommend the beef broth. Now comes more details for the beef, you can have rare or well done options, known as Pho Tai and Pho Chin respectively. I prefer Pho Thai, as the hot soup poured on top would cook the rare beef and leave it nice and tender. As we were waiting for our hot both, we also had a starter, Bahn Cuon, which consists of steamed pastry filled with minced pork and mushrooms served with fish sauce. Bahn Cuon reminded me so much of Cheung Fun of Chinese dim sum.
One thing I have always find very amusing is that Cafe East does not serve tap water. They even have a sign stating so. Once, a friend and I were trying to argue with them that it is illegal not to serve tap water, then we found out online that if an establishment does not serve alcohol, then it is not necessary to serve tap water. Cafe East does not serve any alcoholic drinks, so they are not obliged to serve tap water. Alas, I lament over those loop holes in our legal system. Oh, well, to be fair, Cafe East is already quite cheap and they do not charge for services, so let’s give them a break for doing that. So, instead, we opted for their sweet drinks which are very nice. Che Ba Mau is made with sweet kidney beans and green jelly. Sam Bo Loung is a Longan fruit tea. I have tried their homemade iced coffee too, on a separate occasion; it was also very nice, but perhaps a bit heavy on the sugar side.
Here comes our Pho. My friend had Pho Thai, and I had Pho Thai Hue which is the spicy option. They don’t look too different from each other, but the spicy taste from Pho Thai Hue is just the right choice for the current cold weather.
As standard, it came with garnish: Thai basil, lemon grass, beansprouts, lemon and some chopped chilies.
By the end of the meal, we really could not eat any more. The portion was so big. Despite the lovely taste, we only managed to finish half of the dish. Perhaps, it was a bad idea to get the starter. Actually no, I loved the starter so much, my bad entirely for not having a big enough stomach! It was so delicious, so we chose to leave the place in the Asian way ‘Da Bao (打包)*
*Da Bao in Chinese means take away. It is a common practice in Asia to pack away left over dishes in a box to take home. So next time if you happen to be in China, do say ‘Da Bao’ if you want to take all the left overs home.