Café VN isn’t a groundbreaking Vietnamese café, but then it doesn’t pretend to be. A small menu of Vietnamese noodles (both pho, the national dish of soup noodles, and bun, ‘dry’ rice noodles served with a piquant nuoc cham dressing), side dishes and salads offers nothing out of the ordinary. The space is small but well lit; despite overlooking nothing but the dreary Clerkenwell Road, lime-green café furniture and kind, on-the-ball staff gives the place a cheerful feel.
The bun noodles with sliced marinated pork is the best of the lot; unlike in most restaurants, proper chewy, thick noodles are used instead of thin rice vermicelli. Pickled carrots and daikon, lettuce, cucumbers and crisp fried shallots complete the dish with contrasting textures and refreshing flavours. The ‘VN special’ pho (beef brisket, chicken breast, king prawn) pales in comparison, with slightly undercooked noodles and one-dimensional salty broth. The green papaya and mango salad was bulked out by shredded lettuce, but had a clean flavour, although it was a bit on the sweet side.
It’s a good enough option for lunch, especially if you order a chilled, creamy ca phe sua da (iced Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk) alongside. Unfortunately we spotted too late that sinh to bo (avocado smoothie) was on the menu. It’s a drink big in Vietnam, and in Vietnamese institutions around Australia and in the US, but not at all common around these parts. One for next time, then.