Much to my husband’s displeasure, since moving to a more ‘City of London’ office, I have taken the (bad) habit of buying my lunch out, as there is just so much offer around here that it is impossible (almost) to resist.
In an effort to ‘eat light’ and in the illusion of saving on the calories intake, a few of us girls have become quite fond of the ‘asian inspired’ soups that are now available pretty much in any high street deli chain. So here’s my take on some of them.
EAT’s soupy lunches were the first ones we tried. There was a colleague sitting next to me who loved Tom Yam and nearly every day she’d go out and get EAT’s version of the famous thai soup. Very watery, and sometimes incredibly spicy too, I soon got bored of this after one lunchtime it made my cough so much worse that I thought I would suffocate before finishing my meal.
After one taste of the watery, Vietnamese flavoured Pho, I moved on to the vegetable or the duck gyoza. I believe these to be Japanese inspired concoctions where a small amount of noodles sits at the bottom of the pot, which is packed with vegetables (green beans, carrots) and other goodies (coriander, spring onions). Initially, I got addicted – almost every day I too would succumb to the EAT call and spend my fiver on a hot, steaming pot of noodles and some dumplings. Soon though, the novelty wore off and the inconsistencies between EAT branches started to piss me off too. One branch one day would serve me a fairly tasty pot while the branch next door the following day would serve a tasteless or too salty, version. I now avoid EAT altogether.
We then discovered that a brand new Itsu branch had opened around the corner. Moreover, they also had a selection of hot pots too; price-wise, it was all pretty similar with small variations each side of £5 for a large pot. Itsu’s soups have recently changed slightly: in size, in price, in name and in variety. They have added some rice soups (which, frankly, do not appeal to me at all) and they have changed the ‘default’ noodles from udon to glass. I am in two minds on Itsu’s products. Their ingredients are generally sustainably sourced, and very clearly defined on their website. The pots are actually quite tasty (I particularly like the pumpkin seeds added to them); but often they contain so much salt that I feel parched for the rest of the afternoon. At least the current single size is a much better lunch size – before it was almost impossible to finish the whole lot resulting in a waste of money and sadly, food. My favourite Itsu ‘potsu’ at the moment is the vegetable dumplings.
Pod is a great concept, and they seem to be doing well as they have opened a couple of extra branches recently, including one right by my office (see what I mean about choice!). While I really like their efforts in terms of sustainability (compostable packaging, recycling, free range chicken), unfortunately I do not find their food as good as it could be and I leave disappointed. Their (with chicken, vegetable or salmon)however, after an uncertain start, have improved and a couple I had in the last few of weeks were pretty decent. Their hot version (Schezuan) is quite hot but equally balanced in flavour, although it feels a little too greasy. The Miso version is less spicy and less greasy and the salmon has a bit of a smokey after taste, but it contains a generous amount of glass noodles and the right amount of salt. I would be definitely going back to Pod during this cold weather for more pots, which come in two sizes (from £3.45).
Chop’d is a salad bar in the attractive Leadenhall Market. The queues for the ‘on demand’ salads are always huge, even in the winter and their range of food recently expanded to include some stews and some asian pots (of course!). As you pick up the pot from the shelf (with the usual choice of chicken or vegetable dumplings, salmon, mushrooms), you then choose which broth you like from the counter. I usually opt for the Thai one which it’s subtly spicy. Initially, I thought Chop’d had possibly the winning City soup – however it has become slightly disappointing recently. The glass noodles are few and far between and broken up at the bottom of the pot, while large chunky pieces of broccoli do not add anything special. Top marks for the fresh broad beans.
City Càphê falls slightly outside of the previous cafes’ range. It is in fact run by people from Vietnam – so among its competition, it does stand out for authenticity. Tucked in a small lane near St Paul’s, it has only been opened for a month or so but when I visited, the queue was way outside the doors! The choice is not huge and they offer only the Pho, the proper Vietnamese hot pot. Like Pod, they use compostable crockery which puts me already in a good spirit towards an establishment. I tried the beef version. Copious amount of beef in a very light, very delicate pho broth. I did enjoy it, but it maybe lacks slightly in flavour compared to some of the other versions. Then again, this might be the authentic one and the way it should be. I just don’t know. In any case, it feels filling without making you feel guilty. Worth a try.
Many other cafes offer similar soups – from Wasabi to Yum Cha – I have not had a chance to try them yet. Indeed, I only enjoy those steaming lunches during my work week.
Why then, is this to my husband’s displeasure? Well, they have become known in our household as ‘stinky soups’. The garlic and the spring onions in them are the clue. Be warned.
Avoid at your peril if you have meetings in the afternoon!