What used to be a long-standing greasy spoon cafe in Hither Green has in recent times regenerated to become one of the nicest, most authentic Vietnamese cuisines around.
Cafe Green was for a long time a local cafe in Hither Green, serving slap-ups to locals around the train station and the Springbank Road area. In 2015 however, a small Vietnamese family who have lived in the area their whole lives, decided to embark on an adventure into the local business world and bought the lease on the building, with the aim of bringing a little slice of the wonderful food and culture of Vietnam to Hither Green.
Visiting on one of the few sunny days we’ve been graced with this Spring, Cafe Green looked lovely and inviting from the outside, and despite its residential location, (at the end of a long row of houses) it sparks interest to passers by with a quaint table and chairs feature outside and a strong logo to go with its name.
As I stepped foot inside, I was greeted by beautiful paintings of rural Vietnam, which populate the walls of the cafe, and the lovely Tam, who guided me through their delicious looking menu. The interior is spacious, with large wooden tables, and large plants and flowers perched in corners.
After glancing over their tasty looking rice and noodle dishes, I opted for the top-dog on the menu: a Pho dish of Chicken AND Beef (eyes bigger than stomach as usual). Whilst I waited, Tam introduced me to Van, her partner, who told me about the cafe and its story. He offered me a pure vietnamese coffee, which he said was hard to find in the West. Vietnam, although a major producer of coffee, sees much of its coffee mixed with other blends from all around the world, creating a bolshy hybrid lacking any distinction. He informs me this is the practice of many of the big coffee companies - Nescafe, Kenco and others - to create more coffee for less money. Fortunately for the coffee industry such behaviour goes mostly unnoticed over here, as people worry less about the source of their coffee than, say, their meat...(No horse please!!!)
The three main people involved in Cafe Green are Van, who runs the day-to-day, Tam, the chef, and Minh (Van’s sister) who looks after the accounting and the finances. They are all lovely and friendly people.
“Tam has always been passionate about cooking, and only cooks food that is freshly prepared, using good quality ingredients” - Van tells me. He said that even before they opened up the cafe, Tam was a prolific chef and had developed her own unique style of cooking traditional Vietnamese dishes at home...
He wasn’t wrong. Less than 10 minutes after I ordered, a smiling Tam comes over and places in front of me a bowl full to the brim, steaming, and packed with fragrant aromas…Van and Tam bid me a good meal and left me to tackle the Pho.
The pho dish was immaculate. The Beef and Chicken were certainly cooked in no way I had ever tried before. Both were incredibly tender and succulent, whilst keeping a meaty texture, like you would expect from a slab of Roast Chicken. Again my curiosity took over and I enquired into the secret behind this balance, which Van informed me was a simple case of cutting the Chicken and Beef in a different place to where you would normally for a dish like Pho. (Any more than that he could not discern, sorry!) The taste and flavours were intriguing, constant, but in no way overpowering.
After the meal, Van offered me a special Vietnamese green tea, which helped to digest the mammoth Pho, and set me straight for the rest of the day. As I looked around I noticed they also have a menu for English Breakfasts...similar to the previous cafe’s. Van says he wasn’t sure of the clientele in the area when they first started and as such tried to keep something of the original cafe’s menu available. An unlikely coupling of cuisines, but such is London and it’s diverse food scene that it almost seemed normal…
For anyone interested in Vietnamese food, or healthy food in general, Cafe Green is a must visit. It’s residential location hasn’t helped for general promotion across the borough, but people from Hither Green, Lee, and further afield are starting to hear about this vibrant little eatery, and are flocking in numbers. Van and Minh are currently in talks with the council about getting a late license for evening meals (an idea I was heavily supportive of!) and locals from the Springbank and Ennersdale area are all in full support of their efforts.