The welcoming and friendly owner, Van, is a young Vietnamese man who had taken advantage of a banking redundancy to open Panda Panda. When we arrived, five teenagers lounged around on cafe-style chairs. They asked if they could watch the football and it emerged they had ordered a staggering twenty nine bánh mì to take away. The kitchen staff worked in a frenzy behind the counter to slice, toast and fill the Vietnamese sandwiches from fresh. We were happy to wait for ours with some snacks to share to stave the hunger pangs.
Made with mango and watermelon, my bubble tea was studded with fat chewy tapoica balls. I find something innately childish and fun about these drinks, and this didn't disappoint. Almost like a dessert, it was refreshing and thirst-quenching.
Served in a takeaway style carton, curry fishballs with chilli sauce has long been a Hong Kong street food favourite of mine. At £1.45 a skewer, these were textbook bouncy and chilli-spiked with the merest hint of curry. Summer rolls were crisp and packed with herbs, prawns and noodles served with a standard hoi sin dipping sauce.
A mammoth portion of grilled pork with noodles was priced at an absurdly good value of £3.45. Drenched with an accompanying pot of fish sauce, I felt it could have done with a little more chilli. Nevertheless, I felt smug in the apparent healthiness of all the lettuce, carrot and cucumber I was shovelling down messily. The pork was well marinaded and was satisfyingly juicy.
Half the menu is dominated with bánh mì, the Vietnamese baguette that seems to be taking London by storm. Banhmi11, a stall at Broadway Market is always busy and the short-lived Viet Baguette in Charlotte Street apparently closed to find bigger premises to cope with the demand. Van's aunt previously owned the bánh mì stall at Greenwich Market, which explained his dedication to the cause of finding good bread. Made with rice flour, bánh mì baguette should be crispy and airy, lighter than their French originals.
We tried a traditional baguette made with 'rolled pork & Viet ham'; smeared with pate, a dab of mayo and stuffed with slices of slightly gelatinous ham (this is a good thing), pickled carrot and radish, coriander and lightly scattered with scarlet-red chillis. From the first bite it was clear Van's efforts in sourcing decent bread were not in vain. Crispy but not enough to scrape the roof of your mouth to buggery, it gave way to soft pate and the crunch of the vegetables. The grilled chicken and pork variant was just as successful, though I preferred the livery hint the traditional had. They were polished off with ease.
I was pretty full by this point, but I wasn't about to leave without trying the 'Tofu-Fa', which I haven't seen much of in London. When I was a kid we had a favourite cafe we'd often go to in Hong Kong; right in the middle of a smelly market, they did the best potsticker dumplings which we almost always inevitably followed with this dessert. Served chilled (warm in winter), the wibbly wobbly tofu has the texture of just-set jelly and is sweetened with syrup. Mildly flavoured with soy, it's a cooling and light dessert and to me, is ultimately comforting and reminds me of childhood. I would come back for this alone.
So, another decent local addition. While it's not a place for a long lingering evening, it's perfect to grab a lunch or dinner on the cheap; none of the dishes or sandwiches are over £4.
Oh, and did I mention they make milkshakes with ice cream and a chocolate bar of your choice? I was, sadly, too full but I am already plotting when to get me a Ferrero Rocher milkshake.
8 Deptford Broadway
London SE8 4PA
Tel: 020 8616 6922