Wednesday 7 April 2010

Panda Panda, Deptford

Like most of my corner of South East London, Deptford Broadway isn't much to look at. Derelict, boarded up shops litter the roads, dodgy old pubs reeking of old men and sweat line street corners. New build housing, all metal and glass gleam incongruously beside railway bridges, but a splash of colour lights up the drab grey, orange letters shining through the fug. Panda Panda, billed as an Oriental sandwich cafe opened here last month. A friend told me of it's existence and I was invited to dinner here. A mere 20 minute walk from my flat, I was excited at the prospect of bubble teas and Hong Kong-style desserts.

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.

Panda Panda

8 Deptford Broadway
London SE8 4PA

Tel: 020 8616 6922


Joshua said...

Does look damn tasty. Not sure I can manage travelling to Kent for a sandwich though.

Mr Noodles said...

I wished there was somewhere like this in my corner of London. I'd forever be popping in for fishballs on a stick!

eatmynels said...

Yes Kent is a very long way for a baguette... but still yet to try Bahn mi. always good to squeeze the word buggery into a post!

Jonathan said...

Excellent stuff. Love the idea of a Ferrero Rocher milkshake. And thanks for the Sandwichist link.

Helen said...

£3.45? £3.45!!!!

Patrick said...

Post's like these are the reasons I love food blogs. I think this is going to be my new place for lunch most days.

P.S. to the commenters above: Since when has Deptford been in Kent?!

S said...

this is *my* kind of place, bubble tea and spicy food under one roof? swoon. x shayma

Nagging Bird said...

Mmm looks amazing, soon to be a newcomer in New Cross/Deptford I will be looking forward to this..

- violetscurd

Food Urchin said...

Hmm Panda Panda almost looks as if it's worthwhile crossing the river for.....almost.

(need to try bahn mi soon though)

gastrogeek said...

Ferrero Rocher milkshake? What a delightful idea.

Deptford dame said...

Glad you got down there to sample it. Just like Wellbeloved's butcher shop and the Deptford Deli, Panda Panda is a food experience I'm happy to walk the full length of the High Street for!

The Grubworm said...

I've still not tried Banh Mi and this makes the need more pressing still. Panda Pand looks like the local everyone wants but no one has. Except you. Lucky.

Hollow Legs said...

Josh - ha! They were very good, but I suppose since you're near Broadway Market, that's a better idea.

Eatmynels - Thanks! Buggery is a good word.

Mr Noodles - I love fishballs - why do they taste better on a stick? they do.

Jonathan - thanks! I really want to try a toblerone milkshake too...

Helen - £3.45!!!

Patrick - ah, thank you. (Josh once confessed he thought Deptford was in Kent...)

Shayma - I know, I am very lucky to live so close. Love those bubble teas.

Rachaelmbc - Ah, an early welcome to you then!

FU - It's always worth crossing the river... southways, anyway.

Gastrogeek - Isn't it? They said it' their most popular so far.

Deptford Dame - Definitely - Wellbeloved is great place. I'm yet to try Deptford Deli, I will soon though.

Grubworm - I am very lucky indeed. Banh mi is relatively new to me too, but I'm glad it's in my life.

Sarah (@scotian_girl) said...

Glad you've dropped in here, I spotted it on the bus back from Greenwich last weekend but it was shut - will have to pop in soon and try!

I heart cupcakes said...

I pass this on my way to buy cat food from Pets at Home and have been meaning to try it since it first opened. After reading your review I MUST go there asap and try Banh mi as I've not tried it yet!

And I love milkshakes, and anything panda themed so I must visit!

Tom said...

You have given me an excuse to go to Deptford again!

I really liked the Deptford Project last time I visited for its hippie wholesome vibe but wanted a further food reason to go. Now I can go and visit Bearspace, lust after some modern art and eat the food I most miss from NY!

Rocklands ArtBeat said...

I was just thinking of which Deptford eatery I would go for today. Think it may well be Panda Panda. After all I was at Panda~Power club on Tuesday night. Must be a sign...