I love Vietnamese food. It’s something I crave and a treat that I don’t feel guilty about. I love that dishes like pho are so rich in flavour, so fresh and yet so simple. I love that after eating it you feel full, contented and healthy. I often go to Vietnamese restaurants in East London but this time I went somewhere a little bit closer to home. On Wednesday, I visited Pho on Wardour Street for the first time in a very long time to see how it compares.
Pho was founded in 2005 after Stephen and Juliette Wall fell in love with Vietnamese food and culture while backpacking in South East Asia. Most travellers dream about bringing their experiences home by opening a restaurant but forget about it as soon as their feet touch English soil so it’s really inspirational that Stephen and Juliette took the leap and opened the first of six restaurants 7 years ago and never looked back. Many celebrities dine at Pho and I spotted Nick Frost sitting in the corner as we were entering so I had high expectations this time round.
The Wardour Street restaurant is quite special. The exterior is surprisingly bright and hard to miss despite the grey restaurant front and minimal signage. The big windows and soft lightening makes the restaurant really stand out and seeing as it’s located on one of the busiest roads in Soho, that’s a big deal. The building itself is listed and this adds to the quirky, unique shape of the restaurant. The interior is almost horseshoe shaped and really intimate. Though the tables are pretty close together, you never feel as though your imposing on your fellow diners or that people can hear your conversation. The grey brick walls, black trimmings and wooden furnishings give it a really cozy, clean feel and it’s actually quite beautiful. I was fortunate enough to visit at the perfect time to get the benefits of a quiet, late lunch as well as experiencing a full, buzzing restaurant as early dinner diners started to stream in and both atmospheres were friendly, pleasant and comfortable.
Seeing as I hadn’t eaten all day and it was approaching early evening, my dining partner and I opted to share some starters before diving into a large bowl of pho. We chose: Cha Gio (fried pork spring rolls) and Goi Ga (Vietnamese chicken salad).
The Cha Gio is served in really manageable portions: three large spring rolls cut in half. The actual roll itself has a great, crispy texture that’s quite rough and contrasts nicely with the soft, almost delicate filling. On the topic of filling; it was moist, fresh, subtle and clean. Unlike many spring rolls, these weren’t greasy or soggy and the filling wasn’t messy or overpowering. I personally think they’re great as a mild palette cleanser when eaten on their own (after a lot of zingy, spicy food at least) but some may think that it’s lacking something. Luckily, Pho offers a selection of sauces to accompany the rolls. We opted for the peanut sauce that gave the rolls a little boost that was missing.
The Goi Ga is possibly my new favourite thing. Full of fresh, raw, finely sliced vegetables and really finely shredded chicken lightly coated in a fresh, zingy dressing that is just so bright that you can even taste the colours. The crispiness of the fresh vegetables with the soft chicken is amazing and I actually can’t praise this dish enough. I actually want to go back right now just for this dish. I’m usually one for really strong dressings and prefer food to be on the salty side but this was really well balanced and quite exciting.
For the main event, I went for the Bun Ga Hue (hot and spicy chicken soup) with thin bun noodles. The broth was full of flavour and spice that had a really nice balance and didn’t feel overwhelming. The shredded chicken was really clean, soft and seemed carefully selected. In the very large bowl, I didn’t find one piece of undesirable meat (I’m very picky when it comes to fat, gristle and the rest of the nasties) so it was a really pleasurable experience. With all pho you get a little dish of herbs, bamboo shoots, lime and chilli and though I used some elements I didn’t jump onto them like usually because I felt it was delicious as is. The only problem was that there was too much and I only managed half but that can’t really a bad thing can it?
My dining partner went for the same soup but with prawns and though I don’t eat seafood the prawns looked tempting. They were large, well prepared and looked as though they were well cooked. I don’t think I’ll convert to seafood any time soon but you have to appreciate a good looking piece of food don’t you.
After dinner I was informed about the new Vietnamese rice wines that have been added to the menu and tried the Man Do, a plum liquor. The fruit liquors are served in shot glasses with ice cubes – I’ve had plum wine like this before and it’s a great way to drink such a high percentage drink. The liquor smelt very strong and very much like sherry with a fruity undertone. I was a little apprehensive drinking it as it smelt as though it would sting the back of my throat and leave me a rambling mess but it was actually really subtle and easy to drink. I did get a little slurry afterward but I can’t really complain.
To sober myself up a little, I ordered a famous weasel coffee. If you’re not aware of what a weasel coffee is, I will refer you to this description for more details. It’s a great coffee with far less bitterness and as a milk and two kind of girl, it was really easy to drink black with a single sugar. It was a great way to round off the meal and it had such a full flavour without leaving me with coffee breath and I could have quite happily had another one.
All in all it was a great experience. The food was fresh and the taste was on par with other Vietnamese restaurants I’ve been to. The only difference I can really note is that it’s a lot cleaner and polished than the restaurants on Kingsland Road or the like, there is more variety with drinks and the prices are a little bit better.
The pho is great on a wet and windy day like Wednesday, a hungover Sunday or if you have a cold. The salads are perfect for summer days or for a little pick me up and I can’t wait for an excuse to have another one. It lived up to my expectations and I recommend giving it a go especially if you’re a stubborn so and so who thinks authentic flavours can only be achieved in “authentic” restaurants – I’m pretty sure you will be a convert.
Disclaimer: This meal was provided free of charge for my honest review purposes. All opinions expressed are my own.