Stuffy head, aches and pains and swollen glands. What do you eat when you’ve got a cold for the umpteenth time this season? The answer is Pho.
It was a cold wintry night and I was long overdue a catch up with my friend Karen but to be quite frank, I felt well and truly bleurgh, like I should have been at home in quarantine. But missing this girly catch up I was not. So under doctor’s orders, we were combining this ladies’ date with a big steaming bowl of hot soupy noodles at Pho restaurant on Wardour Street.
I’d forgotten how good the starters were at this Vietnamese street food cafe. And the Banh xeo (a Vietnamese crepe) was a first for me.
We looked at it somewhat bemused to start with. But our waitress soon told us we needed to break up the crispy crepe, place the shredded chicken and herbs into the rice paper to make a parcel and then dip it into the nuoc cham sauce.
Oh wow. This was not only novel, it was delicious. In between this and the ridiculously more-ish fried squid, I was completely won over. The baby fried squid (Muc chien gion) came with a simple tiny pot of chili pieces and salt and pepper which you simply squeezed the lime into and used as a dip. I could honestly come here for the starters alone. I almost forgot we needed to leave room for the Pho.
When it came to ordering the Pho, it was difficult to know where to start. Did I want mega spicy or just a little touch of heat? Did I want brisket beef, flash fried steak or chicken? Or maybe I wanted to order the whole works and get tofu, chicken and fish all in one. Decisions, decisions…
I was a bit flummoxed but eventually by the staff’s recommendation I settled on the Pho tai lan – the flash fried steak with garlic.
And Karen opted for the Pho chin – a tender brisket beef slow cooked in stock.
I will add in here that I may have reversed all my good intentions by ordering some cocktails. I know this sounds excessive when I was claiming to be on my deathbed, but Pho have just added some rather tempting additions to their cocktails menu, so it would be a sin to miss out.
I had weakened but the Hanoi Mule was surely remedial – it had ginger beer in it (ginger’s good for colds right?) and Hanoi vodka, apple, mint and lime. And hesitantly, I took a sip, which led to two sips, which led to me forgetting my no alcohol rule and you know what happens next..
The Phojito was an even headier mix of Nep Phu Loc (clear rice spirit), mint, lime and soda. Approach with caution if you’re a light-weight like me. But the flavour was impressive and just what you need to warm the toes in the middle of December.
Minutes later our big bowls of pho arrived and I decided to throw my pride out the window and accept a paper bib. (My cream jumper mattered too much to me). It did the job.
The garlic ratio of the Hanoi-style Pho tai lan dish was mega-high (garlic beats colds), they were super generous on the chilies (that would sweat the cold out, surely) and the beef was a source of iron (again, get lost cold). This was my only hope. Come on Pho – let’s see what you can do.
The Pho chin was a tad lighter on the heat scale and more subtle in flavour but equally delicious.
All pho comes with a side dish of gorgeously fresh Asian vegetables and herbs too which you can add to your broth as you like. This also adds to the wholesome and healthy feel of this food.
It’s here I admit I’m not very good at eating Pho. I know that in principle it’s best to drink all of the liquid first so that you can eat the noodles with your chopsticks at the end. But half way down I was bored of slurping the soup and really wanted to get into the good stuff.
I’ve watched demonstrations on TV too (Do you remember the Channel 4 Sunday Brunch when they showed you the technique.) You place the noodles onto the spoon and then you use this as a platform to almost inhale the noodles using your chopsticks. AGAIN, this looks way easier on TV as it is in real life.
That said, I wasn’t completely defeated. I think you have to adopt an attitude of ‘slurp and don’t care’.
- Don’t wear your best red lipstick. It will only end up all over your face.
- Don’t get precious if the sauce goes down your chin, flicks up on your nose or pops back into your eye (although that could hurt with the chilli – ouch.)
- Don’t be too precious about it going on the table. Otherwise, you can be concentrating so much, you’ll never get through it all. (And these bowls are BIG)
If you’re a first time pho-eater, it can make for limited conversation as you concentrate intently on getting the noodle into your mouth and not down your bib. But if you’re with close friends it’s fine. Just go with it and enjoy.
We manage a bit of nattering, a bit of slurping and a good bit of ‘Oh I’ve eaten far too much’ kind of noises. So much so we rejected the oh so tempting offer of dessert.
However we did decide to order a Vietnamese coffee, just for the novelty factor. As the coffee percolates into the cup below, it blends with a layer of condensed milk. Mix this in and you have an intense but sweet after-dinner drink.
It was nearly 9pm and well and truly time for this sickly one to go home.
Going anywhere when you’re ill is hard work. But if like me, you’ve just got to get out and eat some yummy food, Pho is the place for you.
And before I get pulled up by the owners of Pho for encouraging a mass illness-gathering, no Pho, isn’t just made for ill people. It is a fun restaurant that’s edgy, bustly and where you will find amazingly fresh and fragrant cuisine.
Oh So London received a complimentary meal at Pho but all views are my own.
What do you think of this restaurant. Are you equally impressed? Let me know.
Until next time x
News flash: Pho is good for hangovers too!