It has been a hectic few weeks for Banh Banh. Located in one of London's hippest areas, two doors from another lauded addition to the Peckham streetscape, Pedlar, they've been turning away those without reservations from the start.
Banh Banh is run by five siblings, local to the area, and inspired by their grandmother, a Saigon chef in the 1940s. According to the website, "her handwritten recipes inspire every dish you'll find on our menu" - and (spoiler) she had some talent.
For the sake of honesty, I have a real love-hate relationship with Peckham. I lived there for a year as a student and loved it but now every time I go back it feels like an entirely different place. The stubborn I-don't-want-things-I-like-to-change part of my brain meant that it took me a long while to go into the Peckham Refreshment Rooms beside the station - though now I have, I end up stopping by whenever I'm there, mainly because they sometimes do single oysters and I like that.
However, I refuse to go to Franks any more. I will not queue. Some other part of my head blames these new places for ruining the pub we loved - the owners decided to turn it into something fancier, 'relocated' the landlady while all the regulars left. We still meet them dotted around the area but it's not really the same.
So for me, an attentive waitress as I sit at the bar in Banh Banh makes all the difference. Jollily chatting to me about the food and the restaurant; answering my questions about spirits and techniques. The menu is small, as is the bar stock, but she excitedly talks about the plans they have - a new summery spread, desserts, and, she hopes, a bar for classic cocktails.
I start the meal with a cocktail - a mango-vanilla sour that's fruity and tasty, the vanilla vodka leaving a calm, boozy aftertaste. Then on to the food.
The beef in betel leaves starter is an absolute delight. Ground beef with lemongrass, grilled and wrapped in the leaves, then served on a bed on vermicelli. My new friend advises me to wrap the betel leaf parcels in the vermicelli and dip them in the nuoc cham, the smokey meat oozing and flavourful, tangy with the dipping sauce.
Next comes the banh khot pancakes - described as the 'house special' and, I'm reliably informed, their most instagrammable dish. They don't seem like pancakes to me but I guess they're little savoury cakes, handed to you in a burning hot pan - so technically...
These pancakes each contain a tiger prawn, encased in a coconut and turmeric creaminess. They're served with a basket of herbs and leaves with a dipping sauce. Another hands-on dish, you're meant to wrap the pancakes in the lettuce with some herbs and dip them in the sauce. This, again, works out wonderfully. The creamy pancake hits the lettuce and gets lost in the garlicky dip for a melange of sensations. Adding mint to your leafy wrap gives a great new taste too, though the mint can be slightly overpowering.
I thought I knew my favourite Vietnamese spots. I was wrong. The people being turned away from a near empty restaurant are testament to this; they can't seat anyone because it's booked out and about to be rammed. More than satisfied with the food, I sit with a Vietnamese beer called Bia Saigon and actively take up space at the bar.
It's good to discover places I like in Peckham. It pacifies the niggling reminder that its an area that managed to price us out incredibly quickly. Peckham friends are all slowly edging towards East Dulwich now anyway, maybe it's just about maturing. Whatever it is, book a table at Banh Banh and when you arrive, ask to sit at the bar - with awesome food at pretty good prices, it won't disappoint.
NOTE: James Tennent ate at Banh Banh anonymously and paid for his own meal.