After my visit to Pho, it was time for another Vietnamese taste test - this time with Velo, near London Bridge.
It's a small, canteen type place with three long, communal tables and not much in the way of decor save a few plants and a gramophone (a traditional Vietnamese one? I couldn't tell you).
Dodgy slogan aside (Velo's motto is 'love making food', which is one hyphen away from putting me off my dinner), Velo's schtick is a touchscreen ordering system. As well as the traditional over-the-counter method, customers can put in their order at one of three touchscreens. We tried one, but the experience seemed way more laborious than actually going up the counter and speaking to a real human being, which is what we did.
The menu at Velo is pretty stripped down: starters of soups, salads and rolls, with mains of pho, banh mi, rice or noodles in fishy, meaty or veggie choices. (There were desserts too, but all were dairy based.)
We kicked off with summer and spring rolls between us, which were fine, but didn't win my heart. Both were a little on the bland side, but with a tangy sauce to compensate.
The summer rolls had tofu, cucumber and rice noodles, and the rice wrappers were happily in the Goldilocks point between too hard and too soggy, a fate that befalls them if they're rehydrated for too long or too short a period.
The spring rolls were... you know, I can't tell you. They've completely left no impression on my memory - neither good, nor bad. I do remember the thin, sharp sauce had a bit of a cheesy aftertaste, which wasn't a welcome addition.
We scarfed them down nonetheless, given the starters and the mains turned up at once. Not necessarily a problem, but labelling them as starters would kind of indicate a bit of lag between their appearance and the mains' - a wrinkle that could be ironed out by just calling them sides.
While Velo does offer takeaway and eat in options, it felt more geared to the former: we ate in, but got plastic wine glasses and cutlery, as well as both chopsticks and plastic forks, which seemed a bit wasteful.
For mains, my other half opted for lemongrass tofu rice, while I went for tofu banh mi. I'd emailed Velo before to ask if all veggie items were vegan too, and got a quick response back saying they were, bar the desserts.
When I talked to the waitress though, I found they butter the banh mi baguettes, although if you ask them, they're obviously happy not to. I also asked one of the counter statff what was in a banh mi, and was told "they look like this" pointing to a readymade example, which wasn't overly helpful from a vegan standpoint!
To spare you the same wondering, it was lemongrass tofu, carrot, daikon, coriander, deep fried onions and sesame seeds. The overall effect was still oddly bland, given the amount of strong flavours it promised - probably accentuated by the decision to serve the tofu cold - although bonus points for the baguette being nice and crisp.
It was a similar story for the lemongrass tofu rice - served with a pile of cucumber, carrot, alongside the slightly overdone rice, there just wasn't a lot going on in the taste stakes. There were bottles of sauces on the table - fish (grim), chilli and hoisin. Perhaps the last two were veggie, perhaps not - hard to tell when the chilli had no ingredients on the bottle, and the hoisin had a load of e-numbers in. The e-numbers might have been animal free, but without an encyclopaedic knowledge, it's hard to know.
Velo was nice enough, but if you're looking a decent banh mi, you're better off finding Banhmi11 and getting stuck in.
104 Tooley Street
020 7407 9310