If you haven’t already visited this Vietnamese street food restaurant, then make sure you do! Having initially opened its doors in Clerkenwell, Pho has now opened up across the country in London, Brighton, Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham and Cambridge.
I went along yesterday to the Covent Garden branch where I was lucky enough to try a selection of dishes from the menu. The restaurant is only a few minutes walk from the tube so is really easy to get to and is ideal for either a quick lunch, a night out sampling the drinks menu, or as a pre-theatre fuelling station. They also do take-out so you can eat your noodles in the park or from the comfort of your own home.
When I initially walked in I was very impressed by the restaurant’s interior. Having travelled around Vietnam last year, I instantly felt like I was back in Ho Chi Minh City (ah, the wonders of a London restaurant). It’s an intimate space with a mixture of communal tables and high top seating and benches which overlook the street outside. For all you people-watching aficionados, this is a top spot for you!
But, let’s be honest, it’s really all about the food here. The menu is extensive and, to my surprise, I found out that everything on the menu (except one dessert) is completely gluten-free. This is because all of the noodle dishes use rice noodles, all of the spring and summer roles use rice paper, and none of the sauces (except hoisin sauce which you have to request) are wheat based. For me, this is a huge plus! It means you don’t have to go through the menu with a fine toothcomb, working out which dish does/doesn’t contain gluten. The dream.
Two members of Pho staff helped me out throughout my visit, going through the menu and helping to make suggestions. I definitely needed recommendations as there was so much to choose from! In the end, as it was such a beautiful, sunny day, I went for a plate of fresh summer roles with herbs, vermicelli and pickle (gỏi cuốn) and a big bowl of chicken bun noodles. Both were absolutely delicious.
The bun is a bowl of vermicelli rice noodles, which is served at room-temperature, with lemongrass and chilli chicken, fresh herbs, beansprouts, a veggie spring roll and peanuts. You’re also given nước chấm side sauce which you pour over the noodles and mix together. Despite having travelled around Vietnam, I never actually tried bun(!); I was admittedly a bit of a pho addict. However, it was amazing and I’ll definitely be ordering it again. It was so fresh and, with the variety of ingredients in the bowl, there was such a diverse range of flavours. And, when it’s warmer outside, you don’t necessarily want to be eating a hot bowl of broth.
Drinks wise, I started off with a refreshing apple, mint and lime juice, and then finished off my meal with a black Vietnamese coffee (cà phê), which tasted fantastic and gave a real caffeine kick. I sadly didn’t try any desserts as I was so full by that point – but I’ll definitely have to return for a sweet session as they sound totally incredible: banana fritters, pandan pancake with roasted coconut and ice-cream (honey and ginger or coconut), and fruit sorbets. Next time!
The service given at Pho Covent Garden was terrific, I couldn’t fault it. The staff were really attentive and clearly knew the menu very well – I really appreciated their suggestions and help. The service was also very speedy; I never found myself waiting for my next course.
All in all, it’s save to say that I’m a now officially a Pho convert. If you’re wanting a healthy, gluten-free meal where you’re guaranteed a fresh, authentically prepared plate of street food, and want something a bit more exciting than your average salad, this is definitely the place. Go to Pho!