In London, the place to go for Vietnamese is Kingsland Road and, sadly, since I do not live nor work anywhere near it, I’ve not had great experiences with Vietnamese food. It’s a bit similar to my quest for quest for yummy convenient Mexican food in London, which was solved when I went to Wahaca. Pho strives to do the same thing: bridge the gap between authentic ethnic street food and the modern British palette.
(Words to the wise: while pho, the dish is pronounced ‘fuh’, the restaurant is pronounced ‘foe’)
I, along with a bunch of food bloggers and Qypers (Scott Can Cook, Lex Eat, Essex Eating, Hollow Legs, Bribed with Food, Kavey Eats, Domestic Sluttery, Epicurriene, Eat Love Noodles, Greedy Diva, London Insider, The London Foodie and Travels with My Fork, Mr Noodles – to name a few), was invited by Libby from Ravenous and Mathilde from Mathilde’s Cuisine to an evening at Pho’s Oxford Circus location to sample bits of the menu and get to know the owners Jules and Stephen.
Jules and Stephen gave us a bit of an introduction to the restaurant and their background, and then the food started coming – and it didn’t stop until we all had a serious serious food baby.
First up we tried (and got a chance to make Goi Cuon Tom (fresh summer rolls with prawns and fresh herbs):
I love the perfect balance of mint and coriander with fresh prawns and a sweet chili sauce. It’s a wonderful, fresh starter and perfect to cleanse the palette for more naughty things like the delicious Cha Gio (fried pork spring rolls):
Gorgeously crispy on the outside, but not greasy. I loved these. Could have eaten about 10 (but luckily stopped at 5)
Another starter was the Nem Nuong (grilled pork and lemongrass meatballs)
I won’t say I was over the moon about them – they were a bit salty from what I remember.
And finally the healthy option – Goi Ga (salad with peppers, mixed herbs and a chilli and ginger dressing)
This was my least favourite of the night. There just wasn’t enough cohesion between the ingredients. All I could taste when I took a bite was either all pepper or all coriander. I had about one bite before I returned to the huge plate of fried spring rolls still on the table.
After the selection of starters, the servers came around and asked what we’d like for our mains – even encouraging us to get two ‘mini’ portions of things so we could try more. Suddenly my not being able to decide between Pho (their speciality) or Bun Cha (what I’d been craving) was solved.
The Pho Tai Bo Vien (pho with steak and meatballs) arrived, filled to the brim:
The broth was fabulous – a very aromatic blend of clove and star anise. Our side of the table must of looked rather peculiar with our noses hovering over the bowl for a few minutes before tucking in. The meatballs, steak and noodles were equally delicious.
Next up, the Bun Cha Gio Tom (rice noodle bowl with juicy tiger prawns):
I love Bun Cha – and this ‘mini’ portion was the perfect size. It was full of prawns and the fantastic spring rolls. My only complaint is that it was absolutely loaded with lettuce. It doesn’t look like it in the picture, but after mixing everything up and putting in the sweet and sour, I reckon I was left with about 60/40 lettuce vs other better things.
And for dessert, Chuoi Chien (banana fritters with honey and ginger ice cream):
I’ve never been one for banana-based desserts, and I was a little disappointed to see that apart from ice cream and sorbet, banana fritters were the only thing on the dessert menu. However, these were the best damn banana fritters I’ve ever had. Piping hot, crispy outside, creamy inside. Wowza. The honey and ginger ice cream was a perfect complement too. (You do have the choice of coconut as well, which I thought had a fairly good chance of tasting like suntan lotion when paired with banana).
So will Pho stack up against the hardcore authentic Vietnamese restaurants on Kingsland Street? I’m leaning towards ‘no’, but that’s not really the point. It’s good, cheap and convenient. I’d go again.