I tried a cafe near an amazing park near Birmingham and one thing surprised me

Inside Oak Ca Phe
-Credit: (Image: Kirsty Bosley)


It's been a few weeks now since Oak Ca Phe opened just round the corner from Lightwoods Park and I couldn't wait any longer. I try to give restaurants a few weeks to settle in before I head over with my critical hat on and that's been hard with the latest addition to Bearwood Road.

The Vietnamese restaurant caught me eye early on because it had so much promise. Big baked pastries, Vietnamese-style coffee and dishes that just sounded so intriguing. Bun thit nuong, a vermicelli noodle dish, was calling to me and so on Friday, it was a call I finally answered.

Bearwood Road is just wicked, a real melting pot of brilliant places that serve food from different parts of the world. Slowly but surely, I'm working my way along it.

Read more: I went to a stunning bakery in Birmingham with great food and even better people watching

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It was the last weekday of the half term holidays and so when I got to the spot there wasn't a spare seat in the house. We had the option to sit at a bar against the right hand wall and while some diners decided not to bother, I happily parked up.

Oak Ca Phe on Bearwood Road
Oak Ca Phe on Bearwood Road -Credit:Kirsty Bosley

It's a really well fitted out space, cosy and homely and bursting with plants, both real and artificial. I filled up a glass from the lime water bottle on the bar and looked over the menu.

Bowls of pho and curry looked good, as did the sharing plates of stir fry vegetables, chicken wings, bo sot vang beef stew and cha gio spring rolls. I ordered a coconut iced coffee (£4.95) and that bun thit nuong vermicelli noodle bowl I'd been bursting to try (£14.95 for the oyster mushroom veggie option, but they do chargrilled chicken thigh too, for the same price).

I was surprised at how many families with children were there. There's no 'safe' chicken nuggets and chips option so it was nice to see. Bearwood babs are adventurous, clearly!

The waiter was great and helped me with my pronunciation of the dish while taking my order. The ambience is really nice and relaxed, service friendly and thorough (they alleviated any of my concerns about fish sauce) and the decor, beautiful.

There's a really nice long table for eight people in the centre of the room with a false low ceiling of plants hanging above it. It all feels very cosy, but still light and bright.

I've been really spoilt with Vietnamese coffee and the powerful robusta they serve at Tranquil 1992 in the Jewellery Quarter has quickly become my favourite drink in town with both the egg coffee and the coconut coffee delivering every time.

This one couldn't really compare, not that it needs to. There was a thick layer of syrupy condensed milk at the bottom of the glass, which is wonderful, but the coffee itself just didn't have the power I wanted. I'm not sure if they're serving robusta but it didn't taste that way, the flavour wasn't powerful enough to balance the condensed milk. The iceberg of coconutty slush made it a pleasant drink nevertheless.

A baby bottle of sriracha was brought over, Flying Goose legitimate good stuff, and a tiny cute little jar of chilli oil that looks home made. Turns out, I'd need them.

The bowl looked pretty when it came, colourful with vivid green from the cucumber, golden crispy fried mushrooms and orange pepper pops. There was a little pot of sauce for drizzling, a tangy, intensely salty fish sauce alternative.

The bun thit nuong vermicelli noodle bowl at Oak Ca Phe
The bun thit nuong vermicelli noodle bowl at Oak Ca Phe -Credit:Kirsty Bosley

The mushrooms were perfect and there were loads of them. Loads and loads. They were so hot and fresh they were almost lethally crisp, like veggie-friendly scratchings. I bit one and everyone in Bearwood paused their telly to ask "what was that noise?!"

I enjoyed snaffling them with the hunky chunky slices of white onion and pepper. There's fried shallots on top too, alongside what I now call a Nan Salad; a bit of lettuce that looks like it's seen better days and rounds of cucumber. I was imagining a big handful of aromatics, but aside from a single sprig of coriander, a lonely leaf shouldering the burden, there's nothing to be seen.

The spring roll I hadn't expected to find in my bowl was beautiful, filled with distinct muk yee mushrooms and glassy vermicelli. It was hot and oily and felt like a treat, I was sad when I'd finished it.

All of that lay on top of a bed of vermicelli, plain and dry. There's loads of it too and I had to be strategic about my drizzle. Sriracha and chilli oil comes into play at times like this.

The mushroom that I loved to begin with started to dry my mouth out given how salty it was. Alongside the drizzle, I felt like I was consuming 467 times my guideline daily allowance of sodium, though I'm sure that's not the case in reality.

I was full before I was even half way through my bowl and it felt a little wasteful. I wish I'd gone for the pho, sure a broth would have made everything better. I'd be interested to see if you get aromatics on that too.

Baked goods on the counter at Oak Ca Phe
Baked goods on the counter at Oak Ca Phe -Credit:Kirsty Bosley

I paid my bill but not before grabbing a pastry off the sweets counter to try later at my desk. The berry tart is more creme pat than anything and I enjoy it, though it's not as big and poofy as I wanted for something that costs the best part of a fiver. I've been spoilt by the supremes at Perch, clearly.

All in all, a pleasant cafe in a really cool part of town. Definitely room for improvement as far as the food goes but I'd struggle to go back given how many brilliant options there are in Bearwood. Fortunately, they don't need me - the place seems to be constantly rammed as it is so they're doing something right!

Oak Ca Phe is at 614 Bearwood Road, Bearwood, B66 4BW. This review was independent, conducted at random and food and drink was paid by the reviewer.