I am a little bit obsessed with Vietnam. It started not that long ago when I read Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. What followed went something like this: Apocolypse Now, Platoon, Hamburger Hill, Full Metal Jacket, Anthony Bourdain, Luke Nguyen, The Songs of Sapa, Pho, Bobby Chinn, incredible BBQed meats covered in shrimp paste, An Nam, Mien Tay, Bun Cuon Thit.
And last week I went to Pho, the largest part of the mini-chain, in Soho. It was a Friday night and it was busy. We waited at the bar/in a corridor for 40minutes trying to avoid getting in the way and struggling to order a drink. Even at 6ft4in and with healthy bar presence I struggled to make eye-contact with the girl behind the bar.
Pho has a much more polished appearance than both An Nam and the Battersea Mien Tay and the menu is a little westernised too. I ordered Goi Xoai which was pleasant if lacking heat, I am unsure whether the iceberg lettuce was a necessary filler. Although presented as a starter, it worked because on this evening I was dining with a vegetarian, I would suggest this dish is shared, like most food should be. A Vietnamese retaurant that so easily adapts itself to vegetarians is a rarity. Pho is eager to please. I enjoy unapologetic heat from fiery chillies, food slathered with fish gut sauce and nether bits of pork slammed down with no hint of a smile, it attracted me to Vietnamese food.
For main course my Pho with steak and brisket was OK, the broth a little underwhelming. Thankfully the condiments are good and it was easy enough to pep up to a point of endorpine enducing heat. We had sorbets of mango and strawberry & basil from La Maison de Sorbets. Cold, wet and fruity.
I had a Ca Phe, which was a big mistake. I don’t drink coffee, I don’t drink caffeine much – I was brought up on Coke with a gold label, one of those kids. Until this Ca Phe i had never enjoyed coffee, needless to say I enjoyed it alot, a rush of sugar and a huge caffeine hit, glorious. Unfortunately I buzzed all the way home and stayed awake all night, wired all the way through to Saturday. With every high comes a low and I apologise to my mother and my girlfriend for what they experienced on Sunday – a caffeine slump of epic proportions.
Eating at Pho is a nice introduction to Vietnamese food – but it’s not as good as it gets. Not by a long way.
Distance from Croydon: About 20miles.Get on that train to Victoria and use the underground. There’s one in Brighton too, and some others in other places in London.