Caphe East is a new venture from two ex-London dwellers, Britishborn Vietnamese Linda Ong and her Singaporean husband EK Ong. Wanting to add to the roster of friendly Vietnamese street-food spots in Singapore, Ong has roped in her mother, Dung Nguyen, who was previously the main cook at City Caphe at London’s Liverpool Street – and though we like the idea, the results are a little mixed.
The bright, modern café pleases with its Big Smoke bricks, industrial wire-hung lamps, wanderlust-inducing pictures of Asia (Vietnam mostly), wine-pairing options and heavy but sleek cutlery. But the dishes, while authentic, have flaws – namely overcooked noodles, a low beef-to-noodle ratio and inconsistent broth.
The bun bo hue (beef with vermicelli in spicy broth, $9) comes in a salty, excessively sweet broth with a heavy lemongrass hook that veers towards a tom yum flavour. The similarly sweet pho tai (rare beef noodles with fl at rice noodles, $9) has a dominant coriander note. The 12,000 Miles Pinot noir ($10) makes for disconnected pairings with both, though the light Villa Maria sauvignon blanc ($10) took the edge off the latter’s spiciness.
We like the banh xeo appetiser ($8) – a savoury fried pancake stuffed with crunchy beansprouts, prawns, sliced pork and onions that’s cooked to a crisp shell and nicely seasoned with black pepper. Even better is the banh mi ga ($5) – a sandwich of tender chicken, Spam-like Vietnamese ham (which tastes much better when it’s in a wrap), cucumber, pickled carrots and mayonnaise, served in a toasty, fluffy baguette.
For a sweet ending, try the toffee-like sua nong coffee ($4.50), though locals who like their chendols less sweet should order the che ba mau – a traditional dessert with red kidney beans, green agar-agar, puréed beans and coconut milk with crushed ice ($6). This is a pleasant spot, but we feel it needs to do more if it’s going to attract diners from outside the neighbourhood.