What is Pho?
Pho is a popular street food from Vietnam. Is it pronounced ‘fur’ or ‘foe’? I can’t seem to find a definitive answer, so if anyone knows let me know! It is served in a bowl with a specific cut of flat white rice noodles in clear beef broth, with slim cuts of beef (steak, fatty flank, lean flank, brisket). Variations feature tendon, tripe, or meatballs in southern Vietnam. Chicken pho is made using the same spices as beef, but the broth is made using only chicken bones and meat, as well as some internal organs of the chicken, such as the heart, the undeveloped eggs and the gizzard. Pho is served with a myriad of garnishes –Thai basil, spring onions, bean sprouts, wedges of lime and chilli work together to intensify the flavour of this broth even more.
I fell in love with Pho (the dish) when my company moved offices to a new part of the City of London. My colleagues and I discovered a tiny little Vietnamese restaurant that is only open Monday to Friday, queues stretching down the road; that sells a pho that is so good that I am sure it has to be the best in London! So what do you do when you have a few days off, you’re nowhere near your office and you have a strong craving for this medicinal broth? Why, you head to your nearest branch of Pho of course! A small chain of restaurants specialising in Vietnamese food.
TBH and I arrived at the Soho branch for a late lunch and made ourselves comfortable in a table by the window. I liked that it’s not communal bench seating. As it was a late lunch it took a little while to get the attention of the waitress, they all seemed pre-occupied with getting ready for the evening service. Never-the-less, we placed our orders and got down to the business of one of my favourite pastimes, people watching.
To start, we ordered to share the Nem hải sản: large crispy spring roll of tiger prawn, crab & pork with nước chấm dipping sauce (£4.00) and Mực chiên giòn tender fried baby squid with a salt, pepper & lime dip (£6.50). The crispy spring roll was not what I was expecting and unfortunately not something I liked very much. The dipping sauce was a little too runny to have any real impact. The roll itself tasted like it had been fried in old oil and there seemed to be more vegetable filler than prawn, not entirely pleasant.
The baby squid was far more successful. Perfectly cooked squid, light crunchy batter and the dip was delightful. It came in a little bowl with the salt and pepper and then we were told to squeeze the lime into it and mix it up. It was lovely but I would’ve liked more of it.
There really was only one thing on the menu that I came for. For my main dish I ordered Phở gà: chicken breast in chicken stock (£7.95). Absolutely packed with chicken and flat noodles, I was told to go easy on the chilies that were served on the side – “they’re hot”. Taking no notice of the waitress, I lobbed them straight into my soup. Everyone’s version of hot is different, isn’t it? I wish I had taken heed of what she said – those tiny little chilies nearly blew my socks off! Needless to say, I had to pick them out. The portion is huge and I didn’t think I would manage it all, but it is so comforting and delicious that of course I finished it all!
TBH ordered the chicken Cà-ri Vietnamese curry packed with veggies & mushrooms, topped with nuts & served with fragrant broken rice (£9.25) He is a sucker for katsu curry and this was as similar as he could find. He really enjoyed it.
Service was a little slow, but I think that had a lot to do with the timing of our visit. Our waitress was sweet though. Our total bill for 2 soft drinks, a beer, 2 starters and 2 mains came to £36.00 – a real bargain! I enjoyed our lunch and I think it’s a good alternative to some of the bigger chains out there for something cheap and cheerful. I will be back.
Until we eat again!