By Alyson Melody
If I had to choose just one thing I love most about Forest Hill, it would probably be the café culture. The chic-yet-easy-breezy eateries that have been sprouting up around the neighbourhood over the past couple of years have only enhanced the relaxed and friendly atmosphere already lent by the abundant greenspace. One of these is a Vietnamese café galled Gao, which has really brightened up the high street in the best of ways. There are plenty of great restaurants and cafés that offer high-quality British fare, but cultural diversity goes a long way.
Directly across from Forest Hill Station, Gao greets you with cheerful turquoise frontage and windows painted with welcoming illustrations of Vietnam. The first time I stepped inside, I was delighted by how much space was available for my baby’s pram in spite of the modest size of the interior. They have made beautiful use of the space, high ceilings and all.
If you feel like eating in, the tables are lined up right next to the large floor-to-ceiling windows, allowing for excellent people watching. If you’re pressed for time and just want to grab a quick bubble tea on the way to the nearby Horniman Museum and Gardens, you can order and take away at the till. The staff are consistently welcoming and helpful—if you need help navigating the menu, they will gladly guide you through it. And if you or your kids have allergies or any other dietary needs, they’re happy to accommodate, which is so important. This is advertised clearly with a sign by the till, next to a smiling good luck cat.
The food itself is fantastic, especially for a little corner café. You can enjoy pho, classic French-Vietnamese baguettes, steamed bao buns of which there are both meat and veggie options, salads, and spring rolls. The bao buns are my personal favourite because they’re delicious and child-friendly. If you’ve eaten them before, then you know they’re perfectly portioned sandwiches that are just right for little hands to hold. Alongside the food, there’s a selection of fruit and milk teas that can be ordered with or without boba and assorted jellies. I rarely pass by Gao without sneaking in to take away a taro milk tea with tapioca pearls.
Prices are as friendly as the staff. You can take a peek on Gao’s website at gaohouse.co.uk.