In three words: Fresh, Exciting, Genuine
The Lowdown: BunBunBun is bringing its namesake to East London for the first time – yep, it’s time to embrace the concept of Bún Cha. Now, don’t get confused with Asian buns such as the Hirata steamed variety – what the new kids on the block are offering is very different.
In fact, you’re probably saying their name wrong. ‘Bún’ is pronounced ‘Boon’, and is an all-in-one meal served with soft vermicelli noodles, fresh salad and pickles. There are fifteen different varieties, and the house special is the famed Hanoi pork type, first recorded in 1959 in the old quarter of this Vietnamese city. Mouth watering yet? Well, BunBunBun is one of the only places in London to serve this dish in the traditional way.
Location: Kingsland Road – that bright and bustling street known as the Little Vietnam of East London, where promises of Pho and Banh-Mi call out from every cheerful shop front. A wander along here will have you longing for spice and lemongrass before you know it.
The Occasion: BunBunBun provides superb, authentic food in a lovely relaxed environment. The pared-back interior makes it great to come for a chilled-out evening, and large tables mean it’s ideal for groups of friends wanting to catch up over some prime Asian cuisine.
Decor: Nothing fancy and overdone here – much like their food, it’s all about keeping things simple to maximum effect. Stylish and contemporary, with lovely pale wood and quirkily graffitied walls that evoke a Hanoi street scene, make this a place where there’s no standing on ceremony. It’s great for people watching too, especially with the glass shopfront.
Atmosphere: The room hums with a bright, expectant excitement at the dishes on offer – the smells are truly incredible, and you can tell everyone in the place is either loving what they’re tucking into or eyeballing other peoples food, waiting with twitching chopsticks for their own to arrive. It’s cosy, comfortable, and a place to feel immediately at home (thanks in large part to the charming, smiling staff).
Culinary Concept: BunBunBun is offering a mix of contemporary and well-loved dishes, from the obvious Bún Cha to set rice meals, clay pot cooking, wok fried noodles, and then some more contemporary twists such as their burgers in brioche buns. The owners have delved into their own Vietnamese heritage to create a menu that offers something for everyone.
What we tried: Deciding on starters seemed impossible at first – so much looks tempting! We opted to begin with the Salt and Chilli Squid – an excellent choice, as it turned out to be one of the finest examples of this dish that we’d ever tried. We even had other diners remark on how good it looked! Absolutely zero grease, light golden batter and perfect seasoning meant we were soon scraping the bowl for every last remnant, despite it being a generous portion. Honey marinated pork belly was also a success, with its smoky, chargrilled exterior yielding to tender meat that we dipped into a piquant chilli sauce.
For main course we naturally had to try one of the Bún Chas, and went for the grilled ribeye of beef with lime dressing. It was huge, arriving in a deep bowl and resplendent with colour and exotic scents. Large chunks of beef rested on noodles, and a sprinkling of various toppings decorated the surface like colourful confetti. We mixed in peanuts, crispy shallots, shredded lettuce and a delightful tangy sauce, then sat back, loosened our belts and prepared to enjoy the taste sensation. The mix of textures was also amazing – crunchy toppings, tender beef, and those soft, indulgent noodles.
We’d also spied another diner trying the all-in-one rice box, so opted for one of those, too. After asking our lovely waiter which he recommended, and being told the catfish was a favourite, we decided to trust him. It turned out to be a good choice – a sizzling plate of succulent fish, caramelised to a sticky, unctuous sweetness but with a great punch of spice and flavour too. This was completed with a bowl of fluffy rice, some palate-cleansing pickles, and a vegetable broth. All in all, a delicious and satisfying meal that transported us straight to the streets of Hanoi!
Best of the booze: There’s a great selection of beers and wines to choose from – my dining partner enjoyed his Saigon export, while I was thrilled to see a Picpoul de Pinet on the wine list, and found it matched perfectly with the vibrant flavours of the food.
For Next Time: Everything on the menu looks and smells incredible, so I’ll definitely be returning. I’d like to give the Bún Cha another go, simply because it was delicious, and would probably go for the traditional style of grilled lemongrass pork, mini grilled pork patties in a meat broth, served with a crispy spring roll.
Vegetarian Options: There’s plenty here for vegetarians to enjoy – in fact, the menu is certainly as exciting for non-meat eaters! The stir-fried lemongrass tofu Bún sounds great, as does the Spicy tofu & aubergine braised in a claypot.
Overall: On a street that’s already bustling with prime Vietnamese cuisine, any newcomers have to be pretty confident in what they’re offering. Well, BunBunBun has reason to throw its cap into the ring – the authentic food is genuinely delicious and the options available are impressie. We’d never tried traditional Bún Cha before – but are certainly glad we have, because all too soon we’ll be craving another Bún!