Hot town, summer in the city… has arrived early in London this year. So, what to eat? Man cannot survive on salad leaves and barbecues alone, but when the mercury is rising and there’s no air-conditioning – we’re in the UK remember! – it’s difficult to get enthusiastic about roasts, or bakes, on even our favourite ethnic Indian and Chinese restaurants. Beside, we wanted a change of cuisine. So, we thought we’d try Pho.
The Soho branch of this small Vietnamese food chain is in the heart of trendy Wardour Street in an 18th-century listed building with lots of character – old sash windows original brickwork and fireplaces. Wicker lampshades flared shadows onto rough-wood-clad walls bringing a little Hanoi atmosphere to this corner of London W1.
We began with a selection of starters which come with lettuce and dipping sauces for you to wrap and dip. It’s a bit messy but fun. Perhaps not surprisingly the pros in the kitchen made a better job of this than us and the “pre-assembled” Summer Rolls were a highlight – light and refreshing with a hint of summery mint – perfectly complemented by nuoc cham, a well balanced sweet and spicy traditional Vietnamese dipping sauce. We also wolfed down the tasty stir-fried Morning Glory, which is water spinach with garlic, but “Morning Glory” sounds so much better.
For mains at least one of us had to choose a steaming bowl of the emponymous Pho noodle soup. The staple Vietnamese dish (aka “the soul of the nation”) Pho is basically a thin broth of meat and noodles. A little too wintery for me, so I opted for the restaurant’s other signature dish, bun noodles – rice noodles with a stir-fried topping, fresh herbs and peanuts. Like the Summer Rolls it had a fresh clean flavour that I rarely associate with Asian cuisine. The biggest surprise however on the menu was the chicken and vegetable Cari (Vietnamese curry). I would never have chosen it, because.. well, an Asian curry is an Asian curry, right? Wrong – this coconut-milk based dish was light with vegetables that were al dente, and a sweetish Malaysian-like flavour.
Dessert was an easy choice. It’s not everyday you get to refuse a bright green Pandan Pancake with roasted coconut and honey ice cream, and we weren’t about to start today. Sweet, fluffy and not too heavy, it hit the mark. Arguably the best was left to last however. Cho Ca Phe is, as the menu tells us, “one of the rarest coffees in the world and exclusive to Pho in the UK. It is eaten digested and passed through by weasels – a process that dramatically alters the flavour of the beans”. We bet it does! But the 64,000 Vietnamese Dong question is – does it taste like Weasel c**p? You’ll just have to try it out for yourself – with or without condensed milk!
Pho is at 163 Wardour Street, tel: 020 7434 3938, www.phocafe.co.uk