Vietnamese cuisine in the heart of London

Tran Thanh Van and Vu Thuy Anh are two friends from Hanoi who both graduated in Mathematics from Oxford University. After working in the US for several years, they returned to the UK and launched Bep Collective, a popular restaurant that specializes in Vietnamese bread rolls. Heritage catches up with the pair to learn the secrets of their success

In recent years, Vietnamese bread rolls have become popular in London. Did you expect Vietnamese bread rolls to become part of daily life for Londoners ?

In the UK, there are many shops that offer bread rolls for breakfast and dinner. People can get a very nutritious and portable breakfast with just one Vietnamese roll. We think Vietnamese bread rolls have become part of Britain’s diverse contemporary cuisine.

Why did you choose to focus on bread rolls rather than other types of Vietnamese food?

Compared to other Vietnamese dishes that are famous overseas, such as Phở or nem (spring rolls), Vietnamese bread rolls have many advantages. Many Western customers like Vietnamese rolls for their diversity and harmony of ingredients, colors and particularly convenience. Our Vietnamese bread rolls contain a wide range of ingredients inspired by traditional Vietnamese foods such as roasted pork, meatball vermicelli or La Vong fish balls, not to mention quintessential ingredients like shredded carrots, cilantro and chilli sauce. For most foreign customers, food quality is their top concern. Consistent quality, taste and colors cements the success of our Vietnamese bread roll brand in the UK.

Did you expect your bread shop, Bep Collective, to become so successful?

To be frank, success came naturally. Food is the shortest way to connect human hearts. Vietnamese bread rolls have many advantages and are helping to popularize Vietnamese food overseas.

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Your shop seems very Vietnamese. Is spreading Vietnamese culture a key goal?

Having been born and raised in Hanoi, we hold a special place in our hearts for old Hanoi people’s noble and elegant values. We’ve tried to show this through our paint colours, floral tiles, water puppets and old propaganda posters devoted to the hard jobs of Vietnamese peasants. We often use Vietnamese words when naming things, such as “bếp” (kitchen), “bánh mỳ” (bread) and “gỏi cuốn” (salad roll). We want customers to grow used to these words and food choices. Relations between staff and customers are key to the shop’s success. I always remind staff to display joy and zeal because these are typically Vietnamese traits. This is a message of Vietnamese culture that we hope our customers can experience right here not only in Hanoi

What are your future plans?

We hope to add more Vietnamese restaurants to the Bep collective, and to add new and creative types of bread rolls. If possible, we hope to trigger a new trend of Vietnamese cuisine in London.

One of the best things about travelling is discovering new flavors. We present some tasty Vietnamese dishes made with rice paper wraps

“Bánh xèo” (Vietnamese crepes)

In Danang, “bánh xèo” is made with ground rice flour mixed with egg yolk and saffron flour fried in a hot pan. The stuffing consists of fresh shrimp, and lean and fat pork mixed with bean sprouts. Fresh herbs like lettuce, basil, mustard leaves and green bananas are laid out on a plate. Diners roll morsels of hot “bánh xèo” into a mustard leaf or a thin rice paper wrapper, along with a mix of herbs. This roll is dipped into a rich sauce made of pork liver and ground peanuts. Another sauce consisting of fish sauce, garlic and chilli is also provided.

“Mỳ Quảng” (Quang noodles)

Quang noodles have a unique flavour. Served in a light broth of stewed bones, the noodles are typically eaten with meat and shrimp, and fresh herbs like mustard greens, lettuce, basil, white bean sprouts, knotgrass, coriander, sliced green onions and thinly sliced unripe bananas. Toasted peanuts and crispy rice paper add crunchiness to this tasty dish.

Pork rice paper rolls

“Bánh tráng cuốn thịt heo” offers an amazing mix of different tastes, textures, colours and flavours. Diners place pork and fresh herbs on a sheet of rice paper and roll it up, then dip it into shrimp sauce. The fresh herbs, soft noodles, sweet meat, chewy rice paper and hot shrimp sauce add up to a memorable dining experience.